Gary Rayneau, co-founder of Project 23 tells us about his time leading a diverse team at Dennis, the impact of Black Lives Matter in 2020, and how publishers can approach diversity and inclusion in the right way.
Here are some highlights:
Where Project 23 started
So through my time with the digital team at Dennis, I worked in partnership with Elaine dela Cruz, who was my partner in the whole setup. And we talked a long time about what made our team great. I’ll unashamedly say it was great. We had a real diverse mix of people, we were high performing. And I hope people really enjoyed working for us.
We knew that we’d created something special, almost unconsciously. And when we look back now we realise it’s because we had a real, real good mix of people, and we made sure everyone was valued and included and developed. I’m not saying we were perfect because we were far from perfect…but by and large, I think we did pretty good.
After leaving Dennis, both of us sat down – I remember it well – we sat down in a coffee shop in Notting Hill, and we just discussed, we’ve got something here and we’ve got something that other businesses could really benefit from. And that’s where it started.
Diversity within media
As a communications industry, media talks a good game. You’ll go into any organisation and the values will be a post on a wall, you’ll know that the vibe and ethos of the company straightaway, the website will be pretty and say the right things.
When you dig under the surface sometimes, it’s not as good as it probably likes to think it is, is probably the easiest way to say that. There’s certain things which it is good at, gender has been addressed for a while now, not to say again, it’s perfect. But certainly things have improved from a gender balanced perspective. Obviously, this year, ethnicity has been a huge focus, and organisations are starting to be better at that as well.
I still think there’s so much work to do in the more subtle and hidden elements of being more diverse and being more inclusive.
On whether 2020 feels different for BLM
A lot of people think that Black Lives Matter is a 2020 thing, and don’t realise that it’s been around for while as a movement. It’s just that this year, obviously, the rise in this year has been much more noted.
I’ve got mixed feelings about it, to be honest. It’s definitely given a greater platform for marginalised people to be heard. Coverage within the media within mainstream channels has been much more pronounced. Because of that, it’s created a bit of a groundswell of support and understanding, it’s meant organisations have leaned into the conversation more.
I think it’s moved from being something which we can choose to – I’m talking from an organisational point of view – something we can choose to ignore or not….so the fact that companies are now feeling more compelled and motivated to speak up to do something, that’s a great thing.
Conversely what makes me sad is some people’s reaction to the movement, definitely showing that racism is very much alive and well in the country in 2020.
The right reasons for centering diversity
When we put these issues front and centre and the knock on effect, maybe it’s not the first but the knock on effect that leads to increased audience or increased revenues or increased readership, whatever it might be, there’s hesitancy to do that, because we feel that it’s bad that we’re doing it for self serving purposes.
I’ve had that conversation daily with clients that ‘We can’t do that, because we want to do this from a moral and social standpoint rather than business reasons.’ And I make no apology that the two can be hand in hand, and one shouldn’t stop the other.
If you’re worried that communicating through the lens of BLM 2020 is going to look performative, because maybe we’re doing it because we are going to get increased views or hits because of it, then that’s just going to stop you doing in the first place.
Just make sure you’re coming from it from the right perspective. And if it does lead to an increase of X, Y, Z, then that’s okay, because that will drive the next wave of coverage and more and more and more. If we’re saying that the audience out there is more diverse and you’re just catering for that more diverse audience, then of course, it’s going to lead to an increase in some of your metrics. And that’s a good thing.
See here for some more resources and further learning materials from Gary in support of BLM.
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