Luxury fashion brand Prada recently signed a settlement with the New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) that will reportedly cost them millions to implement. The NYCCHR is an enforcement agency of New York City Government, whose role is to oversee human rights laws and foster compliance with them. Last year, this commission banned hair discrimination in New York City, with violations subject to up to a $250,000 fine.

This settlement comes a little over a year after Prada pulled its Pradamalia fantasy trinkets after public outcry that they resembled blackface, imagery that is highly culturally insensitive and inappropriate. Like many brands that have found themselves in this position over recent years, the company apologized, citing their commitment to diversity, along with a promise to learn and do better.

But this settlement with the NYCCHR sparks the beginning of a new kind of commitment, where brands will be held accountable for such cultural missteps, and in essence, forced to take sweeping measures to ensure they do better in the future.

As part of the agreement, Prada has agreed to put all store employees in New York, and executives in Milan through sensitivity and racial equity training. In addition, the company will appoint a diversity and inclusion officer, that the commission must approve. Among other things, primary responsibilities of this new role will be to review Prada's product designs before they are sold, advertised, or promoted in the U.S., and to review and monitor Prada's anti-discrimination policies. 

Prada has also agreed to give reports of the demographic makeup of their staff at every level to the commission, and to keep their Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council in existence for at least six years. The brand announced the launch of this new council as a part of their apology with the Pradmalia trinkets a year ago. The company will also develop a scholarship program, to create and increase opportunities for people who have been historically underrepresented within the fashion industry.

In the official press release of the settlement, J. Phillip Thompson, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, had this to say about the agreement:

The deBlasio Administration is committed to protecting the rights of all New Yorkers to live free of racial bias and discrimination. To see a symbol of Jim Crow-era oppression sold as a luxury bauble is a critical reminder that there is still work to be done. By engaging Prada with communities who have been historically excluded from the luxury fashion industry, today's settlement is an important step towards achieving positive social change in New York City.

Inclusive marketing can no longer be kept on the back burner.

Embracing diversity, inclusion, and belonging within your business is the right thing to do from a moral standpoint. But it also makes good business sense. Studies show that diverse teams outperform their peers. And although there is still plenty of work to be done, the good news is that many companies have long embraced diversity from a human resources standpoint.

But increasingly, it isn't enough to just embrace diversity, inclusion, and belonging when it comes to your workforce and company culture. It is also becoming more important and necessary to do so on a commercial level, particularly with your marketing. As the customers you serve become more diverse, knowing how to effectively interact with them and cater to their unique needs is paramount.

Business as usual, that is high on marketing to the masses and focusing on the majority, is giving way to catering to more niche consumers who make up an increasingly larger minority.

Many brands have been slow to get on board with inclusive marketing. As such there have been plenty of brands like Prada, H&M, Pepsi, Heineken, Starbucks, and Dove have paid the price for very public marketing blunders, that have caused swift and public outcries, PR nightmares, and countless lost customers. 

In addition to these known mistakes, there are countless numbers of companies whose marketing regularly pushes diverse customers away -- mostly unknown to the brand, because they don't embrace inclusive marketing, and as such regularly send signals that "you don't belong here" to customers with unique needs.

With this settlement agreement between Prada and the NYCCHR, the message is clear. Diversity, inclusion, and belonging -- particularly in marketing is no longer a "nice to do." It is the way you are expected to do business. It is the expectation, not only of your customers but now of government entities as well.

Be the brand that embraces diversity, inclusion, and belonging in your marketing, because it is the right thing to do.