Bridging the GAP: Driving Results with BRIDGE

Sheryl Daija, creator of BRIDGE, shares insights on operationalizing inclusion as a business practice, the impact of BRIDGE IMAX, a tool for measuring inclusion maturity, and the importance of authenticity in diversity and inclusion efforts.  

We are living in a time when some consider elevating diversity a lost cause, but organizations like BRIDGE help to keep DEI&B alive. Their focus is literally on helping companies bridge the inequity gaps we often see amongst underrepresented communities. 

“How can inclusion become a practice in your organization? Not just in the workplace, which is focused on talent acquisition and retention, but also across your marketing management and commercial practices?” asks Sheryl Daija, Founder & CEO at BRIDGE. While only some brands may be ready for advocacy, it is crucial to view inclusion from a business practices perspective. This holistic approach ensures companies can genuinely embed DEI&B into their core operations, driving ethical and financial benefits.

As the first independent DEI&B Trade Organization for the global marketing industry, BRIDGE believes that inclusion is not just a moral imperative but also a business necessity. BRIDGE integrates inclusion into traditional workplaces, marketing management, and commercial practices.

“We look at it from the perspective of knowing there’s a moral and a business imperative,” Daija says. This dual approach ensures that inclusion is not a mere checkbox exercise but a fundamental component of a company’s growth strategy.

Measuring Change With IMAX

At the end of last year, BRIDGE launched IMAX, an Inclusion, Maturity, Assessment, and capability-building tool, that offers companies a unique opportunity to measure inclusion maturity across their entire organization.

If a company’s internal inclusion efforts are weak, its advocacy efforts can appear disingenuous and are likely to fail. “IMAX presents companies with a first-of-its-kind opportunity to measure inclusion maturity across an organization,” Daija explains. 

“We believe all companies should advocate for the communities they serve and be intentional and authentic about it. We want to be careful that companies aren’t out there doing advocacy work if their own house isn’t in order because that’s when it starts to fall apart potentially,” 

Daija emphasizes. “With IMAX, companies can use its structured approach to identify their strengths and weaknesses in inclusion. For instance, companies like Campbell’s have piloted IMAX to compare brands within their portfolios. This comparison revealed varying levels of inclusion maturity among brands, highlighting areas where inclusion competencies could be better applied. “They knew that they had a core competency in their organization that wasn’t being applied against all of their brands,” Daija explains. This insight allows companies to address gaps and strategically enhance their overall inclusion efforts. 

Developing IMAX: Goals and Framework

At its heart, IMAX is about elevating the roles of Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) and their impact on business. “CEOs need to recognize that their CDOs are the hidden gems that can create a huge business impact,” says Daija. Over the years, Daijia has engaged with numerous CDOs, understanding their challenges and potential contributions to business growth. This exposure was instrumental in shaping the creation of IMAX.

In collaboration with academics from Emory University, the University of Georgia, and Indiana University, IMAX was developed to help companies understand how inclusion can become a business practice and ultimately a brand metric. “Through our  Voices of Inclusion research, we discovered one of the big gaps in our industry was understanding what business practices contribute to equities and inequities in the marketplace,” Daija notes. This foundational research informed the development of IMAX, ensuring it addresses real-world challenges companies face.

IMAX’s importance was further solidified by the Voices of Inclusion research program by BRIDGE. By interviewing CEOs, CMOs, and CDOs, BRIDGE gathered insights into the practices contributing to equity or inequity in the marketplace. “We decided to do a research program called Voices of Inclusion, where we interviewed CEOs, CMOs, and CDOs to understand what approaches and practices were contributing to either equity or inequity in the marketplace,” Daija explains. These insights were crucial for designing a tool to assess and enhance organizational inclusion capabilities.

Success Stories and Practical Applications

The transformative power of inclusion as a business practice is highlighted in several success stories. Fenty Beauty, for instance, recognized a gap in the marketplace and has now become a billion-dollar company. Similarly, Tristan Walker’s Bevel addressed a specific health and beauty need for Black men, turning it into a $40 billion company that P&G later acquired. “Tristan created a company around a single-blade razor, thus closing that inequity,” Daija says, emphasizing how addressing specific community needs can lead to significant business success.

Moreover, IMAX’s flexibility to operate at company and brand levels allows for tailored inclusion strategies. Companies can assess and improve inclusion practices across the entire organization or within specific brands, depending on their unique needs and goals. This adaptability ensures that IMAX can drive meaningful change in diverse organizational contexts.

DEI&B and The Power of Authenticity

“If companies want to build their cultural competency, they must look at the people they are with and the communities they spend time in,” Daija advises. This approach is particularly crucial for marketers to engage authentically with diverse communities. By immersing themselves in different cultures and experiences, companies can develop a deeper, more genuine understanding of the audiences they serve.

“Diversity without inclusion is performative,” the CEO asserts, highlighting a critical challenge in DEI&B efforts. She criticizes the over-reliance on heritage months as the core of DEI&B activities, often leading to performative actions rather than genuine inclusion. “We’ve fallen into the trap of heritage months as being the center of DEI&B efforts.” For inclusion to be authentic, companies must build cultural competency and understand different lived experiences.

From a media perspective, Daija stresses the need to move beyond simplistic demographic categorizations. “We need to start thinking about the world as people, not just demographics.” This shift requires recognizing individuals’ complexity and multifaceted nature, which can lead to more effective and respectful marketing strategies. According to Daija, authentic inclusion demands the same rigor and strategic thinking as any other business practice.

The Role of Media in Shaping Attitudes About DEI&B

Media plays a significant role in shaping perceptions of diversity and inclusion. At BRIDGE, there is a strong belief in reconstructing how media is bought and sold, which better reflects inclusive practices. “We need to deconstruct what’s not working and reconstruct the right model,” Daija asserts. This effort has led to the launch of an inclusive Media Marketing Development Committee, including major brands and agency holding companies.

This committee aims to address the systemic media buying and selling issues perpetuating exclusionary practices. By bringing together diverse stakeholders, BRIDGE is working to develop best practices and standards that promote genuine inclusion. “We’ve convened an inclusive Media Marketing Development Committee of over 50 companies, brands, all the agency holding companies, and platforms so that we can now deconstruct what’s not working and reconstruct what we think should be the right model,” Daija explains.

Daija envisions a space where inclusion is not an afterthought but a fundamental component of strategy. “Inclusion should have the same rigor and strategy as any other business practice,” says Daijia. This commitment to rigorous, authentic inclusion sets a new standard for the industry, demonstrating that ethical practices can drive significant business success.