With the recent newsworthy mishaps from Gucci, Prada, Burberry, H&M and others, diversity has once again taken center stage as the primary cause of major controversy for such legendary brands. The familiar reactive approach to such public relations nightmares is often the common apology and a "we will do better" statement. Then a diversity and inclusion position is immediately created-- but with no measurable plan to ensure such an oversight will not occur in the future. 

The issue of diversity and inclusion has been at the forefront of the world over the past decade. With the recent win in California's of House Bill 826, which requires at least one woman on every corporate board within the state, and the appointment of a woman president to the New York Stock Exchange--progress is on its way to being made. However, the lack of open diversity in every form on corporate boards tends to lend itself to old ideas that continue to have drastic consequences. 

Diversity must address race, gender, disabilities, personal beliefs/religion, and the LGBTQ community to be effective. Every corporate board must create an inclusive policy, which will give them the guidance to serve their customers in a meaningful way, without oversight due to the lack of advice. 

Whether you are a one-person operation, or in the final stages of creating your corporate board or team, it is essential to look around the room and ensure that you have invited diverse perspectives and opinions. Here are three ways you can ensure you create more inclusive policies when building your brand.

Create a focus group

I believe the recent mishap by Gucci with the black balaclava-style jumper, referred to as the "blackface sweater," was clearly due to a lack of feedback from a focus group, who represents their core customer base. As a reaction, Gucci has vowed to implement more diversity to their staff and development teams. 

I constantly discuss the importance of building and participating in focus groups, simply because it works. I witnessed the success of a McDonald's focus group on how they developed their recipe for french fries in an office building. Anonymous feedback from your intended target market will be a tremendous asset to your business. In addition, it will also allow you to hear diverse perspectives. If your board lacks diversity, you can fill in the gap with a focus group.

Create a checklist 

In my former days in corporate America, I listened to several managers make "generalized" statements about specific racial and socio-economic groups in meetings, without the data to confirm such assumptions. They created a marketing agenda for one demographic with a different marketing campaign than the other. It was my personal wake up call that led me to recognize the lack of accountability from corporations. 

A simple checklist will allow you to assess if your products/services are attracting a diverse consumer population such as women, millennials, various racial and cultural groups. If you are unsure that your business will attract every demographic, go back to a focus group and request feedback. Never make an assumption about a demographic without full confirmation. 

Form a diverse advisory team 

A reactive approach as a founder is a clear indicator that you have not completed all of your homework prior to going to market. As such, the lesson you can learn from such luxury, iconic brands is that they leaned on their past wins too long. A "monkey" on a key-chain by Prada or a noose around a sweatshirt by Burberry would have been acceptable in a different era-- but not today. 

Create an outside team of advisors. Unlike a focus group, they are not anonymous, but purposeful in providing valuable insight about the trends in your market. Your advisory team should always provide data, not assumptions, about what is trending and emerging so your company can be ahead of the learning curve. Members of your advisory team should have term limits, so you are always on-boarding fresh ideas every 2 to 4 years. 

Published on: Mar 1, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.