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United with Difference

As a branding agency, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to unite workforces and customers around a common purpose. Whether that’s giving them an emblem to champion, the language to communicate their mission to others, or crafting the behaviours and experience of a company to drive shared actions. Our work is predominantly about building connectivity between people and businesses. 

But simply talking about commonality obscures a fundamental truth: unity often has to coexist with difference. Without it, brands become cults. There are a lot of parallels I’d like to draw here between political fractionality and the coalitions required to drive progressive change… But I’ll save that soapbox for the pub.

Great brands bring diverse people together around a shared purpose, interest, or ambition. Whether that’s a fanatical love for LEGO, the drive to change the way we experience health and care, or simply the hope to make the world of work a bit better, these brands ignite and grow a sense of direction and allegiance. Pragmatically, businesses also have to embrace diversity because without it, they limit their potential customer base, talent pool and relevance. And if morality isn’t enough to push through much-needed change, money will.

In our work, we help our customers address the limitations of their existing brands and create new, inclusive expressions of their business through their visual, verbal and experiential identity. This often includes auditing their choices of people imagery to better represent the diversity of their business and the population demographics of their operational region or target market; ingraining inclusive language in their customer and employee communications, and improving the accessibility of their brands both online and off. It also means we insist on representation in the creation of the brands themselves - ensuring that we’re speaking to an intersection of customers and colleagues to gain a broad perspective on the brand as it stands today, and what people want it to be tomorrow. 

So if you’ve read till this point and you’re thinking - great, another white woman preaching about diversity - I would completely agree with any exasperation. 

As we stand in 2021, UnitedUs is not a completely diverse agency. 

While our small team brings a wealth of perspective and lived experience from different social-economic backgrounds, gender, sexual orientation and neurodiversity, and I am proud to sit on the leadership team as a bisexual woman; we do not bring that same richness to conversations and projects in all aspects of identity, particularly when it comes to race, ethnicity and disability. We’re all white, and none of us currently identify as disabled - although, of course, we might in the future given that 80% of disabilities are acquired between the ages of 18 and 64. We have to be aware of our limitations, be active allies, and put in the work to ensure that everyone feels welcome at UnitedUs.

If you’re in a similar position and looking for ideas on where to start, here are just some of the actions we’ve been taking:

  • Changed our recruitment language to proactively welcome applicants from marginalised communities (and consistently run the ads through gender-bias language screening tools).
  • Posted job advertisements in specialist recruitment networks for underrepresented groups in the creative industries.
  • Committed to being a Living Wage employer, and created a paid internship programme into creative and strategy roles in our agency.
  • Formalised our flexible working policy to better support a range of working styles and care responsibilities.
  • Sought advice from inclusion consultants (like the great folks at Diversity and Ability and Rifa).
  • Included our pronouns in our email signatures, and space to include them on new starter forms and employment contracts.

But honestly, while policy and process changes are fundamental to any diversity, equality and inclusion initiative, the biggest changes come from the culture you foster within a business. I am endlessly proud of UnitedUs when we have the confidence to call out and counter our biases, advocate for those not in the room - both internally, or within our client work - and engage in the hard conversations about our role and responsibility when it comes to diversity and inclusion. 

There is still so much work to be done, and there always will be. But right now, I hope that our efforts will continue to grow a vibrant agency that is capable of delivering creative, inclusive brands that unite people with great purpose.

About the author

Natalie Burns

Partner & Strategy Director at United Us

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