Closing The Gap

4 lessons this Google VP learned about inclusivity in 2021: 'We must own our blind spots'

Marvin Chow, VP of Global Marketing, Google
Photo credit: Google; Photo Illustration: Elham Ataeiazar for CNBC Make It

This year, I realized that not being racist isn't enough. It delivered urgency to be actively anti-racist in both my personal and professional life.

But if 2020 jolted me awake, 2021 has kept me wired and restless. Ideals, priorities and values that were surfaced last year have stayed top of mind. Though my individual diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) journey will look different from yours, what hopefully unites us is our commitment.

To help, here are four DEI lessons I learned from my work as VP of Global Marketing at Google this year, along with tools to inspire all of us in 2022. After all, our work is never done.

1. What's obvious to one is a growth opportunity for another

For years, I've witnessed the transformational power of sharing personal stories within my team. Hearing first-hand journeys about identity has helped us shape a culture of psychological safety and belonging.

When we expose rarely seen aspects of ourselves — however raw, imperfect or not-figured-out — we foster empathy, build trust and deepen connection with others. For most of us, it's the courage in this open sharing that defines vulnerability.

But there's another type of openness that is equally significant: We must own our blind spots. Questioning, listening and learning should be celebrated and valued as another way to connect and grow.

2. The first step to upholding standards is setting them

Brands hold significant influence in shaping people's perceptions. As leaders, it's our duty to uphold the standards for learning and growing we have in both our personal and professional lives. We cannot allow our work to perpetuate stereotypes or turn a blind eye to biases.

Standards, benchmarks and practical guidance shape the best work in my field, marketing. Imagine what would be possible if all marketing teams used those tools to be more inclusive.

The launch of Google's All In toolkit, for example, represents a positive step in this direction. It offers ideas and guidance to embed inclusivity throughout every stage of marketing, and valuable considerations about marketing to a range of audiences.

With a solid place to start, I'm feeling hopeful about the progress brands can make to have more inclusive marketing in 2022.

3. Endorsement isn't enough

Last year, a study found that 85% of Gen Zers think brands should be about something more than profit, and 80% believe brands should help make people's lives better.

Consumers want more than bandwagoning and virtue signaling. They want to see action and a true desire to make progress.

There are many ways to drive meaningful progress, such as helping people shop their values by enabling them to see and support Black-owned, Latino-owned, women-owned or veteran-owned businesses. At Google, we mark wheelchair accessible routes in Maps, and empower the hearing-impaired with live captioning on Android and in Google Meet.

These examples inspire me about the impact brands can have if we not only endorse inclusivity through marketing, but also double down on championing consumers' needs.

4. A leadership legacy starts with doing the work

This year, one idea struck so clearly: It's our humanity that creates the most meaningful work. In other words, bringing my full self to work is the best asset I can offer my team.

In 2021, my identity as an Asian American leader was particularly forefront. The horrific surge in violence and discrimination toward the AAPI community inspired a real urgency in supporting my community.

At work, stepping up to champion our #StopAsianHate commitments was a responsibility that felt both personal and profound. It was a moment where Marvin the Marketing Leader and Marvin the Human were linked, multiplying the meaning of my work and the influence of my leadership.

As leaders, our impact will be commensurate with the authenticity, lived experience and human empathy that we bring to the table.

And with that: 2022, I'm ready for you. I invite each of you to bring your questions. Elevate your inclusivity standards. Act on your brand's values. And, most importantly, bring your heart. 

Marvin Chow is the VP of Marketing at Google, where he leads marketing for some of Google's largest products including Search, Maps, Chrome, Photos and Messaging. Follow him on Twitter @theREALmarvin.

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