Bathrooms, Belonging & The Boss

by | Feb 21, 2020 | I&D

Is your approach to inclusion enhancing or hindering your brand?

You may well have seen a piece that our Founder, Miles re-posted recently about museums and whether they’re doing enough for disabled customers. Despite wildly expensive renovations and updates – reports of broken lifts and ramps, as well as displays that aren’t accessible to all show that there are many museums and galleries are still well behind the times in terms being inclusive to all potential patrons. Miles’ point in re-posting the article was that if you aren’t inclusive to your customers, what impression are you giving to the environment a potential employee might be entering?

Now, this might come across as simple oversight or lack of thought on the part of these institutions but the facts are that it likely goes far beyond that. At a recent conference I attended discussing diversity and inclusion in the travel sector, it was highlighted that travel companies with little or no representation of disabled people amongst their employees are often the worst at serving disabled customers as they can overlook even their most basic needs. I guess that comes as no great shock. These organisations don’t understand the benefits that come with having not only a diverse workforce but an inclusive working environment that allows all members of their workforce to contribute. They aren’t using inclusion to enhance their brand but inadvertently damaging their brand by not embracing it.

You can see examples of this everywhere and one particularly struck me recently. I was in the bar of a popular London venue a couple of weeks ago and noticed that they had the gender-neutral sign on the doors of both the male and female toilets. This simple touch immediately made me think that this is a place that strives to be inclusive to all and ensure that all customers (and therefore most likely their employees) feel like they belong. As a result, I have recommended the bar to a number of people in the couple of weeks since I was there. Now, I haven’t mentioned the toilets in my recommendation and none of these people might benefit from a gender-neutral toilet. However, a straight-forward show of inclusion has boosted the brand of this particular venue for me and potentially gained some extra customers.

Now bathrooms and brand might not always be an obvious connection, with some obvious exceptions (I’m looking at you Armitage Shanks). But, this particular occasion made me think back to a notable incident from 2016. Many will remember the furore surrounding the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act passed in North Carolina – better known as the “Bathroom Bill”. One of the key aspects of this bill required transgender individuals using public toilets to use the one matching the gender on their birth certificate, rather than the gender to which they most closely identified as. The bill was incredibly controversial but hit the most public backlash when Bruce Springsteen cancelled his upcoming concert in Greensboro, NC in protest against the act – condemning the it’s infringements on the rights of transgender people. “To my mind, it’s an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognising the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress” Springsteen said as part of the announcement that he was cancelling the show. “Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them”.

Anyone that knows me at all will know that The Boss didn’t need to boost his brand with me – I’ve been brought up on his music and, in my eyes, he can do no wrong. However, I’d put money that he at the very least gained a few Spotify listeners for taking this stance whilst the state of North Carolina was facing a plummet in brand stock for this cruel and anachronistic legislation.

This example is obviously an extreme one, however there is something in it. Your approach to inclusion is one that you will be judged on by customers, clients and prospective employees alike and the damage inaction can do to your brand is significant. We’ve found a number of our clients have recently stated that they have been asked by prospective clients and partners about the make-up of their project teams and have, on occasion, lost business as a result of a lack of diversity.

Don’t let your approach to inclusion be the reason your brand falls behind, if you feel that change needs to be made then do it now before you find yourself amongst those desperately trying to catch up. In the words of The Boss himself “it’s a town full of losers, and I’m pulling out of here to win”.

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