Your Marketing Told On You — I Was Listening

Anetra Henry
5 min readSep 29, 2020

George Floyd’s murder amid the Coronavirus pandemic caused the scales to fall from many American’s eyes regarding racial injustice. There was a quick response from many organizations announcing their support, stance, and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, many were not prepared for the backlash. There were calls to see boards of directors photos, releasing of diversity goals and progress, and most telling were the testimonials from currently employed black people at these organizations. Many indicate that their company’s response was not in line with their daily experiences.

And then came Wells Fargo’s CEO excusing why the bank has not met its diversity goals.

“While it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of black talent to recruit from,” Scharf said in the memo, seen by Reuters.

Is it that there is a limited pool of black talent to recruit from or is it that the pool of black talent doesn’t want to work for your organization? We know that Wells Fargo had its fair share of legal problems in the recent past. This is a deterrent for talent of all races and backgrounds who don’t want to be associated with a company that has not done a great job of taking accountability for this particular scandal. There is a certain arrogance in assuming that people of color, particularly black people, are so in need of opportunities that they want to work for an organization that is riddled with ethical and legal violations. But there’s another issue here that isn’t being considered when excuses are being made: the implicit bias that shows up in Wells Fargo’s marketing.

I did a brief analysis of Wells Fargo’s Facebook page. I evaluated the posts on this one platform from April 15th until June 30th. Keep in mind we saw a video of George Floyd the week of May 25, 2020. Wells Fargo’s initial response on Facebook was June 2, 2020, where it posted about “standing with its employees and community about racial inequities and social injustice.” I would call this a rather agile marketing response, especially since it was followed up with posts on June 19th with a pledge to “strengthen diversity across our company” and one dedicated to Juneteenth.( I guarantee you that was not initially on the social media schedule.) There are also the typical posts you’d expect to see as they relate to other celebrations such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Pride, recognition of employees doing great things, peppered with posts about Covid protections, and promotion of products. Here is what I noticed:

  • Black people and other people of color are depicted in posts that are related to only being customers or in service to others
  • White people are depicted as business people, the makers, the “fabric of America” (the parents and the children in the Mother’s and Father’s Day posts are white)

Many entities — corporations and government agencies — not just Wells Fargo, make this same mistake. The bias is prevalent in the marketing. Often black people are depicted in servitude to whites and other races. We are often thought of for any role other than leadership. Or, the marketing shows us as merely customers. It sends a message that our dollars are valued, but not us. No wonder so many black women executives report being assumed as the secretary or asked to fetch coffee when they are attending board meetings or executive leadership gatherings. This lack of representation sends a message to black talent that you may be welcome at lower levels in this organization, but not in positions of leadership.

What organizations need to understand is your marketing tells the truth about the corporate culture — and not just the outward facing social and digital stories, but the internal newsletters where the same bias shows up time and time again. What it boils down to is there is an agile marketing response that lacks authenticity and accountability.

And so we have a CEO say aloud what many other leaders are feeling as we hit a place of fatigue about having deeper conversations and out of the box action about racial injustice. Instead, we have excuses. For black talent, we’ve heard it all before and we’ve seen it all before. Many respond like one Wells Fargo employee did:

“I can get them 10 to 15 resumes today.”

My professional advice as a marketer and diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant is don’t. Here’s why:

  • If you aren’t working in Human Resources in recruiting, DO NOT volunteer to recruit other black people for free. The mere fact that HR does not know where to find black talent when being paid to do so is a problem. Instead, hold them accountable for earning their paychecks without making excuses, like you’re expected to do.
  • A workplace’s culture needs to be authentically dedicated to change before it just starts to onboard black people. We are truly traumatized and face unique challenges that the world has had years of experience ignoring and quite honestly, so have we. This awakening is painful for ALL. If your organization wants the benefits of having diversity on its team, then it needs to make investment in change and be prepared for what that change brings.
  • Though we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion as if they are equal parts of a whole, that is not how it is experienced. An organization can be diverse but not inclusive or equitable. This is what causes talent to leave and leadership to “think” there is no “black talent to be found” when in actuality, you had it, didn’t listen to it, ran it off, and it told other black talent not to come to your circus.

Fixing these problems is not easy and requires commitment to hard work and uncomfortable listening and action. As marketers, we are degreed listeners, or at least we should be. When your organization becomes accountable for change, then it will flow authentically in its marketing — internally and externally — which will solidify achievements in diversity, equity, and inclusion goals as well as profit goals.



Anetra Henry

Thinker. Writer. Marketer. Diversity Champ. Lover of family, friends, & great music — especially Prince.