Ensuring DEI buzzwords remain meaningful

The industry needs more root and branch change and less fluff and guff

big group's Ed Riseman explores why buzzwords can risk DEI messaging coming across as a script, how to ensure they remain meaningful and why year-round allyship is so important.

I am a white, middle-aged man with no mortgage or student loans, and I have enjoyed the privileges that come with that. My personal differences are not visible – I’m gay, I’m half Jewish, I’m a migrant to the UK, and I listen to the Archers.

When the IPA invited me to write a short article to recognise Pride Month, I initially struggled to think of what I could write about with my privileges. Equally, my personal differences are just plain old me and are not something I meditate on for long periods - what would be the point?

What could I offer our industry, which makes much sincere noise about diversity and inclusion and is doing its best to recognise existing change, inspire further change, and drive diversity in an industry that desires it?

Our D&I messaging can come across as a script

It’s a big ask. Like most middle-aged men, I began to ruminate not on what I liked but on what irritated me. That is, much of our ‘diversity and inclusion’ messaging comes across as a script. The words are faddish, show evidence of groupthink, and are overused or, worse, abused.

The marketing industry is in part to blame for this script. We essentially publish a template that is acceptable to as many as possible. Keywords are then pulled out and used ad nauseam. This process is evident in the Corporate COVID-19 response ads.

My trigger list included ‘seen’, ‘authentic’, ‘safe space’, ‘vulnerable’ and the ultimate worst… ‘cancelled’.

What I can say is that when I came out in the 1970s, there were few safe spaces. I felt vulnerable, and I didn’t want to be ‘seen’; I just wanted to live my life. So I guess ‘authenticity’ did come into it, but not as a branding exercise, just as a way for my friends and family to know, see, and interact with the real me.

Ensuring words remain as intended

In May 2022, we made a little bit of history when the business I co-founded, the big group, became the first business in Britain to become certified as a majority-owned minority business by OutBritain. It was then I decided to put my hand up and be more open about who I was – I had a certificate to back me up!

A couple of years later, in 2024, I was nominated for the IPA iList by an employee who knew my story due to the OutBritain certification – something I wouldn’t have been successful in without being fully behind the change we were trying to create.

During the iList process, and through speaking with other nominees and judges, I had an epiphany: those words that triggered me are much more than buzzwords or tokens that make up a script; they are carefully chosen and used by people who have often had their choices ‘othered’, and that included me.

Ed Riseman, Co-founder and General Manager of big group

So, to ensure these words remain as they were intended and stay genuine, here is how I’ve come to interpret them:

Be heard.

My favourite saying is, "It's not what you say; it's what others hear". Shouting loudest is not being heard; be clear and articulate is better.

Be seen.

Most folks see what they want to see. If you want to be seen, be intentional and consistent and put your hand up. Diversity doesn't look like you, until it does.

Be authentic.

I have used the word 'clear' several times in this blog. Use it as a reminder that my authenticity is not a judgement and authenticity is different for every individual.

Year-round allyship

Changing the colours in your logo to a rainbow or publishing stories about how and when your staff came out doesn’t make you a more inclusive organisation, nor does the number of times ‘authentic’ is included in your diversity and inclusion statement. Being a declared year-round ally is much more powerful and welcome than waving a flag for Pride Month and then disappearing until next year’s parade. The industry needs more root and branch change and less fluff and guff.

Today, we have much more empathy and comprehension than when much advertising and marketing relied on making light of differences and discouraging them. We have more understanding of what it’s like to be LGBTQ+, disabled, black, Asian or Latino in the workplace thanks to the real stories behind the iList; the iList is identifying those making changes and cheerleading them, rather than just talking about them. So, thank you to the IPA iList, its supporters, judges, media partners and readers and happy pride to you all year round!


Ed Riseman is Co-founder and General Manager of big group and was named on the IPA iList 2024 for his work on LGBTQIA inclusion, OutBritain certification and multifaceted approach to positive transformation.

For more guidance and inspiration on driving authentic inclusion, visit the IPA Talent & Diversity Hub


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 24 June 2024