Walmart Canada is a leader when it comes to championing diversity and inclusion, largely on the basis of its hiring practices but also because of advertising that reflects and speaks to multiple constituencies, according to new study from Toronto’s Solutions Research Group.
Companies’ advertising and sponsorship activities, along with their workforce, are the largest determinants of how consumers perceive their efforts around diversity and inclusion, said SRG president Kaan Yigit. The study notes that consumers’ perception of diversity expands beyond ethnicity, including additional factors such as age, disability, and in some cases sexual orientation.
Nationally, Walmart Canada, Nike, RBC, Tim Hortons and TD were the top five companies on a top-of-mind basis when respondents were asked to identify companies championing diversity and inclusion for Canadians of different backgrounds.
Walmart was the top-ranked company in Western Canada, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, with respondents citing the diversity of its workforce as the main reason they selected the retailer.
According to Yigit, survey respondents mentioned not just the ethnic diversity of Walmart’s employee base, but also pointed to the fact that it employs both young and old people, as well as people with disabilities.
Yigit says that Walmart has been “at the forefront of advertising to diverse communities” since SRG first began conducting research into diversity and inclusion about 15 years ago. That includes running advertising in multiple languages, and being consistent in representing the diversity of its employee and customer base.
“I would say that Walmart made championing diversity and inclusion a part of their business strategy—you see this in their sponsorships, advertising, and their management structure,” said Yigit.
All of Canada’s major banks were included on the list, with RBC and TD ranking third and fifth respectively, ahead of CIBC (16th), Scotiabank (17th) and BMO (23rd).
“Not only are [banks’] workforces diverse, but you find them behind so many causes and sponsorships of arts and culture and community events,” said Yigit. “[And] if you scan their messaging, in the last three to four years in particular, you can see they are taking a lot more care and attention speaking to all population segments.”
Among retailers, Loblaw Companies ranked seventh overall, while Amazon was ranked 13th, followed by Canadian Tire (15th) and Costco (19th). Yigit said that large retailers are often top-of-mind because so many people shop in store and online, resulting in multiple touch-points for consumers to evaluate their employee base.
Female respondents were likely to mention brands they felt portrayed women realistically and inclusively, with the phrase “women of all shapes and sizes” used frequently by respondents. It was those values that helped Unilever’s Dove brand, known for its continued efforts around “real beauty,” place 10th in the rankings. Other brands not included in the final list but cited for featuring diverse depictions of women, included Aritzia, Lush, Maybelline and Macrc Jacobs.
Advertising and sponsorships
SRG said that companies’ advertising, both the themes of their ads and their casting, also play a role in how they are perceived by the public. It said that consumers “repeatedly” cited ads and indicated how advertising helps form their impressions.
The inclusion of brands like Dove (#10) for example, points to the power of advertising to shape consumer perceptions of a brand, says Yigit. The Unilever brand has no non-advertising touch-points, he said, meaning that the only way consumers might associate with inclusion and diversity is through its communications.
Sponsorships also played a role in how consumers perceived their diversity efforts, with respondents noting initiatives such as TD’s sponsorship around Montreal Pride.
The findings are based on July interviews with a representative sample of 1,350 Canadians in both languages, as well as follow-up interviews with 420 people conducted in September. The survey represents the first phase of the company’s syndicated Diversity & Inclusion Monitory study. Phase two research is scheduled for November, and will take a closer look at what types of diversity and inclusion initiatives have the potential to influence consumer choices.
Yigit said that diversity and inclusion has become table stakes for companies, particularly those with consumer-facing operations such as banks and retail. “It’s good business to be fair and equitable…and to represent the full spectrum of your employees and customers,” he said. Consumer comments in the September follow-up interviews were unambiguous, he said: “People note and notice the diversity of the workforce for both of these sectors, and the fact that these companies try to fairly serve all population segments.”