• Shellene Drakes

How Rihanna taught us to be inclusive

Rihanna and her foundation colours--including colours for people with darker complexions.


When I think of communications, I’m not just thinking about words on a page. I’m thinking about the images and sounds that come together to tell a story—tell the story that you or your organization want to share. Many times when we’re creating communications, we aren’t necessarily thinking about our audiences. We are thinking that we just have to tell people that this change is happening or that this information is important for them to know. And that’s where we get into trouble. Very short case study. Rihanna, who I love, founded a cosmetic company, Fenty Beauty in September 2017. It was awesome enough that Rihanna had a makeup line, but what made it spectacular for folks who enjoy makeup was that they launched with 40 foundation colours—many of which were darker shades. A gap that any person of colour who has tried to buy foundation would understand. People went crazy and there was a rush for Fenty Pro Filt’r foundations because it spoke to an audience that was either ignored or expected to wait until it was convenient for the cosmetic company to create darker shades that suited Black people and people of colour. So why am I telling you about makeup in the middle of my communications blog post? Because Rihanna saw the gaps, filled them by being inclusive and making foundation colours for everyone and, by doing that, she cornered the market…then every other cosmetics company that had been shrugging their shoulders to the needs of people of colour had to rush to catch up. She thought about her audience and created products for them. When we don’t take some time to think about our audience, we miss key ways to engage them and connect with them. For example, you’re writing an internal article about changes in your HR policy concerning families. You interview a couple of people who are in heterosexual relationships and write the article. Hold up! You may have just alienated a bunch of people in same-sex relationships. Another example. You’ve been asked to create a PowerPoint presentation about a new managerial program and your images are all white men. From communication you created, you’ve excluded anyone who isn’t a white male. Final example. You’re doing a video of an event and you need to speak with a couple of people. You decide to chat with all C-level executives—although there are people from across the organization who are participating. How is your video engaging to someone who doesn’t see their hard work highlighted because they aren’t a senior person? I can already hear some of you grumbling and rolling your eyes from behind your screen. For many people, this isn’t an issue because they always see themselves in media and messaging. For others? Not so much. This is privilege—the privilege of not having to think about how your communications may affect other people. But as communicators, we have to ALWAYS think about how what we communicate says to our audience or else we just aren’t doing our job. Thinking about and creating communications that are inclusive, diverse, and equitable is imperative today. It’s not something that you can just say, ‘oh well, maybe we’ll do it someday.’ If your audience doesn’t see themselves in your business, in your communications, they will go where they see themselves and are catered to or they will just ignore what you’re saying because it doesn’t connect with them. Inclusive communications isn’t just a nice, token thing to do—it’s necessary for the success of your business, plainly and simply.

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