Let’s be honest, in a pre-COVID-19 pandemic world, minorities and underrepresented segments of our community were not top priority for many brands.
For years, many of us have preached the importance of incorporating inclusive communications practices, which include engaging with marginalized and vulnerable audiences in an authentic way.
For those of you that need a refresher though just remember: diversity allows for new perspectives, creativity, and skills.
Underrepresented groups are often forgotten in the “everyday.”
As we navigate these uncharted waters as communicators in a COVID-19 world, one thing has become clear: marginalized populations will be the most affected.
COVID-19 and Inequality
In theory, COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can be susceptible to the virus.
However, like with many diseases and health issues facing our country, racial, gender, and economic biases are factors in placing many marginalized and vulnerable people at risk unjustly.
We get it.
The world has changed.
Your marketing and communications budgets may be reallocated or sliced and diced up.
Your work environment changed. Instead of adult co-workers you might have a five-year-old CEO who needs a snack while you are in the midst of an important virtual meeting.
Not to mention your focus may be all over the place.
You may be struggling both personally and professionally.
But, our role as communicators is to ensure that these segments of our population are not ignored.
We must be steadfast in our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
And they must be deliberate.
Inclusion Lens During a Long-Term Crisis
According to a report by The Regional Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) Working Group, the COVID-19 outbreak is predicted to significantly affect various marginalized sectors.
This includes women, the elderly, adolescents, youth/children, persons with disabilities, indigenous populations, refugees, migrants, and minorities.
These particular segments become even more vulnerable in emergency or crisis situations.
According to RCCE, the populations most at risk are those who:
- depend heavily on the informal economy;
- have inadequate access to social services or political influence;
- occupy areas prone to shocks;
- have limited capacities and opportunities to cope and adapt and;
- have limited or no access to technologies.
By having an understanding of some of these issues, we can improve and craft multicultural marketing strategies and messaging to better support these segments of our community.
With a DEI lens, brands can clearly identify the needs of these groups and hopefully help educate, provide access and resources, and help minimize the brunt of the crisis.
Let’s break down some of those segments…
Care For the Elderly
Based on what we know about the virus, the elderly are the most vulnerable group with a higher fatality rate.
The elderly may have difficulty caring for themselves and depend on family or caregivers, which becomes more challenging during a pandemic.
Living in assisted-living facilities will make social distancing nearly impossible and can fuel the spread of the virus.
PR Pro DEI Tip: As you craft messaging, ensure that it considers their particular living conditions (including assisted living facilities), and health status. You may need to also consider family and healthcare provider tips on how to care for the elderly during this particular time.
Supporting People With Disabilities
In normal circumstances, people with disabilities are often an afterthought when it comes to inclusive communications.
These communication issues continue to be amplified right now. Many may have a compromised immune system and/or rely on community for work, support, or therapy. Social isolation may have a detrimental effect on this community.
Here’s a look at four stories on what it’s like for children with special needs during this pandemic.
PR Pro DEI Tip: Make sure that you use clear and simple language. Ensure that your communications are available in various formats, such as braille or large prints. With everyone’s content going digital, include text captioning or signed videos.
Ethnic Minorities and Stigma In Healthcare
In the U.S., ethnic minorities may not have access to health and other services or be able to leave an affected area.
Further complicating the situation, is that this particular segment may experience stigma and discrimination in health care settings, including medications.
Delays in diagnosis and treatment can be harmful, especially for racial or ethnic minority groups that have higher rates of certain diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease, which can lead to more severe cases of COVID-19.
We’ve already seen several stories throughout the country of COVID-19 disproportionately affecting the African-American community, including in cities such as Memphis, Milwaukee, and Charlotte.
The Pew Research Center flags Hispanics as more likely overall to see coronavirus as a major threat to health and finances.
PR Pro DEI Tip: Now, more than ever, it is important to translate information into local languages. Make sure you are using a reliable source or a trustworthy vendor/partner for translations. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers lots of print materials, videos, and graphics in multiple languages. Include minority-specific outlets in your outreach as they are seen as a more reliable source of information.
Support for Sexual and Gender Minorities
The LGBTQIA+ community already faces stigma and discrimination. In the current crisis mode, these issues are worse and, in some cases, can be fatal.
This segment of the population already feels isolated and encounters barriers to accessing support, access, and health services.
Some states are even trying to pass anti-transgender laws during the COVID-19 pandemic; the result can further the stigmas, fears, and needs of gender minorities.
PR Pro DEI Tip: As you develop your communications efforts, be intentional to include existing LGBTQIA+ groups, communities, and centers as part of your engagement and outreach. These resources are key in helping with prevention and supporting access to medical care. Go a step further and develop content addressing some of their specific vulnerabilities and concerns.
Don’t Forget About Women
Women comprise a large part of the health workforce and serve as primary caregivers.
They are on the front lines of this pandemic. Women may be hardest hit economically while also trying to balance multiple fronts: work, home, family.
Unfortunately, women have also experienced increased risks of gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation.
PR Pro DEI Tip: Beyond inclusive communications and multicultural marketing, you want to make sure that your community engagement teams are gender-balanced. Share specific tips and messaging for women that are caring for children, the elderly, and other vulnerable groups in quarantine, as they may not be able to adhere to social distances recommendations.
Understand the Struggles of Refugees and Migrants
For refugees and migrants, documentation status, discrimination, and language barriers may limit access to preventative materials, healthcare, and social services. It is difficult for them to stay abreast of the latest health advisories and official government updates.
Here’s a look at the current situation of farm workers, many of which are migrants.
PR Pro DEI Tip: Partner with refugee and migrant community networks to help share your messaging. As you develop your messaging, make sure to offer a simplified message and offer content in-language.
People Living In Existing Humanitarian Emergencies
As the coronavirus spreads, our poorest communities are hit the hardest. Individuals in humanitarian emergencies simply don’t have adequate access to shelter, food, clean water, protective supplies, or healthcare.
Many local and national support services have been halted due to social distancing requirements while cities are looking for solutions to help minimize the affect of the virus on the homeless community.
PR Pro DEI Tip: These individuals lack access to timely and accurate information. Fill that gap by aligning with trusted resources or key influencers to help share your messages. Make information available and accessible in a variety of formats while using simplified messaging.
Multicultural Marketing, Stigma, and Misinformation
According to the RCCE report, the rise of harmful stereotypes, the resulting stigma and pervasive misinformation related to COVID-19 can potentially contribute to more severe health problems, ongoing transmission, and difficulties controlling the disease outbreak.
As in, this is NOT a “Chinese” virus.
Let’s do our part to help distribute timely, relevant and bias-free communications through a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens.
Make it a priority to ensure that your multicultural marketing messages reach some of our most marginalized and vulnerable communities.
Their lives may depend on it.
This article is co-authored by Natalia Flores and Gina Luttrell
Natalia Flores, APR (@curlygnat), is the president of Inspire PR and president of the Hispanic Public Relations Association of the Carolinas. She is an award-winning accredited public relations professional with nearly 20 years developing communications strategies for brands with an emphasis on multicultural markets.
Regina Luttrell, Ph.D. (@ginaluttrell), is an assistant professor of public relations and social media at Syracuse University. She also is the Director of the W20 Emerging Insights Lab and serves as the interim director of the Master’s in Public Relations at Syracuse University.