The business case for diversity and inclusion is clear. Research has shown that diverse organizations are more profitable, more innovative and more desirable to employees.

So how do we as marketers contribute to making our organizations inclusive? I believe that we must start by cultivating curiosity.

Curiosity fuels diversity and inclusion

Curiosity is essential for fostering a diverse and inclusive marketing team. According to the Inclusion Curiosity Connection report, “Curiosity may be a natural friend to diversity. It opens the door to different points of view, facilitates insights and understanding, invites involvement and inspires greater engagement.”

Most companies recognize that authentic diversity in their marketing requires a diverse team. Without diversity of thought, background and personality, your campaigns may become stale and out of touch. Diversity and inclusion, however, require more than simply hiring diverse marketers.

Cultivating inclusive environments and teams requires a commitment to continuous change as you learn and grow. Without curiosity, you won't have the tools to support a genuinely diverse and inclusive environment.

Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy famously wrote, “Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard.”

Curiosity paves the way for creating a culture where every employee can authentically belong.

In the SAS Curiosity at Work report, research revealed that 72% of managers believe that curiosity is a “very important” trait in employees. Additionally, job postings that mention curiosity have increased by 90%. This shows that “... on a global scale, curiosity is proving to be a differentiating asset that is increasingly essential to business performance and success.”

Despite the increased value of curiosity, 47% of managers say that they still struggle to identify and cultivate curiosity.

If we want more inclusive marketing organizations, we must intentionally cultivate curiosity.

Start at the top

To authentically lead diversity and inclusion efforts, we must walk the walk ourselves. When in a position of leadership, we cannot expect our teams to spontaneously introduce this to our culture – even if they care about it. Instead, this must be a clearly defined core culture focus of our marketing organizations.

I’ve found one way to do this is to create room for curiosity on your team.

Creating room for curiosity means allowing employees to:
- Ask questions.
- Explore new ideas freely.
- Question existing initiatives.

Equally important to authentic leadership is transparency. Talk openly about your ongoing efforts and welcome feedback. And if you make a mistake, own it. As a leader, your mistakes will be more frequent and more visible than anyone else on the team. If you cannot own them fully, it will limit your leadership.

I recently had to put this into practice myself. Last year, I made a mistake at our internal Marketing Town Hall. I wrongfully and unintentionally overlooked the contributions of a Black leader in my talk about an initiative.

After this was brought to my attention, I talked with our SAS Black Initiatives Group members, and they graciously helped me learn about how this unintentional exclusion and oversight affected them. They kindly offered their feedback and perspective and helped me grow.

I also apologized publicly to our division. While the mistake was unintentional, I believe it matters to own the impact of your actions, not justify the intent. I also think that it is important to apologize in the same fashion you made the mistake. If spoken privately, make a private apology. If spoken publicly, apologize publicly. Goodness, this is humbling, but it’s important.

This is part of creating a culture that is serious about valuing diversity and inclusion.

While it is hard to go through this process, mistakes are inevitable. We simply need to fail forward. If we don't let our own egos get in the way, failing forward will help us create the diverse and inclusive environments we want to see.

Create curious habits

Once you’ve established curiosity as a core value, you must also emphasize curious habits. John Maxwell puts it this way: “I can predict the long-term outcome of your success if you show me your daily habits.”

Inc. found that curious teams often have a few simple traits in common. The most curious teams do things like take notes, challenge assumptions and ask questions. As a leader, you must make space for your teams to practice curious habits like these. This can take many forms, but it always requires intentional thought and action.

For instance, you might leave 10 minutes at the end of every marketing team meeting for questions and idea-sharing. Or, perhaps, you might choose to spend five minutes during the meeting for the team to take notes, digest the content and then ask any follow-up questions. I’ve seen some team leaders host monthly office hours when the team can simply pop in and ask questions or share ideas.

Another habit of curiosity could be to host regular listening sessions centered on diversity and inclusion. During this time, explore how your current diversity and inclusion efforts are performing, and ask what else your team might need.

At SAS, one habit I encourage every one of our marketing leadership team members to adopt is attending our weekly Black Initiatives Group meetings.

During these Friday lunchtime sessions, they get to hear from our BIG leaders, understand the needs of employees, and participate in diversity and inclusion efforts across the organization.

Whichever way you choose to approach it, be sure to create a structured room for curious exploration. Otherwise, it is likely to get lost among the daily pressures of your organization. Intentionally creating this space will empower your team members to be curious, inspire them to challenge the status quo and produce incredible results.

Audit your own curiosity habits

While it is important to hire a diverse marketing team, it is even more important to listen to them once they are part of your organization. Cultivating a spirit of curiosity across your team is key to creating an environment where everyone can belong.

I hope that if these thoughts have resonated with you, you'll take a few minutes to audit your own curiosity. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  1. As a leader, how am I staying curious?
  2. When was the last time I spent time listening to my team about diversity and inclusion?
  3. As a team, how are we regularly making space for curious exploration? Are we practicing curiosity in our work? Are we practicing curiosity as a team around diversity and inclusion?
  4. What is one tangible step I can take to be more curious about diversity and inclusion within my organization?
  5. Do people feel like they belong on our team? If so, how can we keep this going? If not, what do we need to change?

Next steps: Explore these additional resources


About Author

Jenn Chase

Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer

As CMO, Jenn Chase is responsible for leading Analyst Relations, Corporate Communications, Creative, Digital, Events, Customer Contact Centers and Go-to-Market teams around the world. Her 20-year journey at SAS, spanning R&D and marketing, has earned her a reputation of being data driven – often referred to as analytically curious! Along the way, Jenn has guided the modernization of marketing, aligned regional marketing efforts and strengthened collaboration between marketing and sales while cultivating a strong customer focus. Her belief is that great companies possess an intense desire to deliver experiences that far exceed their customers’ expectations every day. Leading by example, Jenn strives to integrate data and analytics to create experiences that are purposeful and lasting.

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