Jennifer Yepez-Blundell on Diversity & Changing Behaviours, not Beliefs
What does it take to positively change human behaviour? Founder and business owner, Jennifer Yepez-Blundell sat down with Business of Purpose to answer that very question and more.
As a woman, a Latina, and a caregiver, Jennifer finds herself always advocating for inclusion and elevating marginalized stories — both in her personal and professional life. In 2018, she founded her own consulting practice, Merida Consulting, as a means to address the systemic issues she was facing firsthand in the workplace. Today, Merida Consulting works with agencies and brand teams to build and implement strategies that integrate diversity, equity and inclusion across company culture and external brand marketing.
Jennifer’s broad professional background in journalism, branding, and advertising has given her the ability to contextualize the power brands have to change the world for the better. “With every ad, with every story, and with every piece of content, we get to change how society thinks,” she says. This ethos forms the backbone of her work at Merida Consulting, where she tries to help brands understand ‘diversity’ as more than just race. “It’s walking into an establishment and seeing yourself reflected in those around you”: It’s the sum of people’s existence, she explains.
Her hard work isn’t all in vain. Increasingly, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policies (DEI) are shaping the global workforce. As of August 2020, in the US, 75% of employees consider a business’s corporate diversity policy important when applying for a position — a figure which rises to 89% in China. But while employee frustration is clear to see, truly inclusive establishments are few and far between.
Are brands doing enough?
Fed up with empty promises and worn down by governmental negligence, the murder of George Floyd triggered a tidal wave of revolutionary rhetoric, with BLM calling upon citizens across the globe to break down and rebuild society in a fairer and more equitable way. Many brands felt compelled to speak up.
Jennifer notes that there has definitely been a shift towards brand activism, albeit through performative gestures. Customers are realizing that they can vote with their wallets, by supporting brands whose values they believe in: “Today’s customers have a strong sense of discernment […] and they expect more from brands”. They’re also now coming to understand that anti-racist posts can only go so far. “The walls are crumbling,” says Jennifer. With consumers increasingly holding brands to account, people are realizing that those ostensibly well-meaning facades are, in fact, “riddled with inequity and a lack of diversity”.
Get your house in order
One of the main issues brands face is bridging the gap between promises and meaningful action: They make commitments but have no idea where to begin with implementing them. That is where companies like Merida Consulting come in.
How do companies begin to repair those crumbling walls? The very first step Jennifer recommends is “finding out exactly where you stand on social justice”. Brands need to get their house in order before inviting others. For this, she suggests an excellent assessment tool from Hella Social Impact to get brands started.
What is right vs what feels right
Jennifer always circles back to the idea that every company is “run by a human” and each of those individual humans are on their own unique journeys. Many brands operate from a place of fear and unknown — “they are making steps because it feels right but not investigating if it is right” — which can lead to more harm than good. As a company, it is crucial to focus on initiatives and programs that change behaviour, not just beliefs. For example, signing up to do a quarterly training session on diversity and inclusion might change some mindsets, but won’t necessarily change behaviour. Ultimately, companies need to determine how they are marketing diversity and inclusion to themselves, their employees, and their customers. The next step? Create a robust strategic roadmap so diversity efforts don’t slip off the radar.
So, is the business community on its way to achieving inclusion? Short answer: Not fast enough. But DEI is a journey, not a goal. There will always be more to learn, more empathy to gain and more action to take — both on a personal and company level. All brands need to do is to first find out where they stand and start today.
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