How Global Food Giant Barilla Became an LGBTQ Ally

I’ve been mulling two recent stories that explore, in different ways, inclusion in marketing and advertising. One offers a good idea, the other describes a great one.

The first is a review of Grow Your Circle, an open source database that functions as a handy resource for hiring diverse professionals in the parts of branding and advertising that happen behind the cameras. Fast Company staff editor Jeff Beer says the tool was created by Forsman & Bodenfors New York after they tried to put together an all-female production crew for a project but had trouble filling every role. It launched in 2018.

Now agencies like 72andSunny and Droga5 as well as a host of independent production companies use it to “search for and find underrepresented talent-including those who identify as LGBTQ+, come from diverse backgrounds, or live with a disability-across production disciplines including film, digital, and experiential,” says Beer. “Its menus filter talent based on expertise, location, or category specialty, and the database is also searchable based on whether it’s a female- or minority-owned business.”

See? Good idea. Especially if people actually use it.

For a great one, check out this story from Bloomberg’s Thomas Buckley on how Barilla dug itself out of a horrific mess of its own making.

It begins with a soundbite heard ’round the world.

On a warm September evening in 2013, Claudio Colzani drove his Audi the 100 or so miles from Milan to Parma, home for almost two centuries to the world’s largest pasta empire. He had joined Barilla SpA as chief executive officer less than a year before and was on his way to a dinner with its chairman, Guido Barilla, who was giving a live interview on national station Radio 24. As the sun edged lower in his rearview mirror, Colzani turned up the volume and listened as his boss walked the hosts through the company’s family heritage–its spaghettis and sauces. Then Barilla dropped a bombshell he would spend half a decade atoning for.

“I would never do a commercial with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect, but because we don’t agree with them,” Barilla said on Italy’s best-known radio talk show. If gay customers didn’t like that, they could go buy another brand of pasta, he said.

More than gay customers did. There were calls for a global boycott, fed by social media outrage. Major distributors raised a fuss. Harvard pulled Barilla products from their dining halls. Barilla senior leadership expressed deep disappointment.

Although sales were unshaken, something more powerful was. Public perception. The company’s great conceit had long been the notion that their products were a vital component of a traditional meal served by a traditional family. Who were they to judge what makes a family? In 2014, Barilla dropped 21 spots on the Reputation Institute‘s annual ranking of companies.

What followed was an expensive but brilliant plan to turn the $4 billion dollar, family-controlled food purveyor from a retrograde bigot into a global ally. With Colzani in charge, Barilla got on board the inclusion train fast, hiring a diversity officer, instituting new training, creating employee resource groups, and recruiting some deeply skeptical, but ultimately indispensable LGBTQ advisers.

Something worked: For the past five years, the company has earned the highest possible score on the Human Rights Campaign’s corporate equality index.

I’ll let Buckley take it from here. The Barilla story is still unfolding, but there are many good ideas for anyone looking to freshen up a brand whose thinking is stuck in the past – all of which involve inclusive leadership training and tactics.

But the great idea at play here is the openness, humility, and courage coming from the person in charge, in this case, the family elder whose name is on every box of pasta. Top-level buy-in is the foundation of all corporate culture change, and no good idea – like a much needed opensource database – will reach its full potential without it.

At the company’s annual staff meeting in December, Barilla showed a short film in which an American employee narrated, “Five years have passed since the beginning of our journey.” Pictures of [David Mixner, a civil rights activist, author, and Barilla adviser] and the company’s chairman hugging flashed on the screen to a solemn piano solo as the narrator said that Barilla had come to learn that love is blind, because it makes no distinctions of gender, religion, or race.

Two months earlier, at the Pasta World Championship in Milan, Barilla did exactly what its chairman had promised would never happen: It unveiled a limited edition of its most popular product, Spaghetti No. 5, wrapped in a box illustrated with two women holding hands, a single strand of pasta held between their lips in a nod to Walt Disney Co.‘s Lady and the Tramp. It was designed by Olimpia Zagnoli, an Italian artist who had advocated for boycotting Barilla in 2013.

Well, now I’m hungry. It seems like a good day to share a meal with someone you wouldn’t ordinarily, right? Inclusive leadership is always better on a full stomach.

Ciao for niao, good people.

On Point

[bs-title]Georgia mayor under fire for removing a qualified black candidate from consideration for a city job[/bs-title][bs-content]Mayor Theresa Kenerly of Hoschton, Ga. isn’t sure she said that her mostly-white city northeast of Atlanta wasn’t ready for a black city administrator, but The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the receipts. According to interviews with officials and a review of documents, the paper has determined that the mayor pulled the resume of a qualified black candidate from a packet of four finalists “because he is black, and the city isn’t ready for this.” The paper describes a “deeply flawed hiring process” and “hard racial attitudes” inside a city of 2,000 people.[/bs-content][bs-link link=”https://www.ajc.com/news/local-govt–politics/georgia-mayor-under-fire-for-alleged-remarks-about-black-job-candidate/Qr403ZLnF5VuB8CzpngLjP/?fbclid=IwAR0f8pcGjO7Ehg33Xl9Qz-FKnjfrsa8Cb-BBO5fvYu27-8d36H1MHPA4UBE” source=”Atlanta Journal-Constitution”]

[bs-title]Black, Native American and Alaska Native women die of pregnancy related causes three times higher than their white peers[/bs-title][bs-content]The Center for Disease Control reported on Tuesday that African-American, Native American and Alaska Native women die of pregnancy-related causes at a rate about three times higher than those of white women. This disparity has only grown over the years, despite the fact that 60 percent of these deaths are preventable with better care and support, and access to stable housing and reliable transportation. “We have the means to identify and close gaps in the care they receive,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the C.D.C. “[W]e can and should do more.”[/bs-content][bs-link link=”https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/07/health/pregnancy-deaths-.html” source=”New York Times”]

[bs-title]Diversity is not going be enough to solve the problems with AI[/bs-title][bs-content]It’s become conventional wisdom that increasing the diversity of the tech workforce will deliver us from biased AI. It’s an important and long overdue step, yes, but it won’t be enough. “‘Diversity in tech’ is not the solution to biased AI. It’s too much to ask minorities and women to educate powerful white men about race and gender,” says Grace Callcott from Projects By IF, a tech studio emphasizing ethical uses of data. Instead, companies need to take the time to reflect on how their technology could be misused or do damage. There are best practices out there, says technologist Dawn Duhaney. “At Wellcome Data Labs we’ve embedded an ethics and user researcher in our product team, helping us consider unintended consequences of our products and mitigate against them.”[/bs-content][bs-link link=”https://peopleofcolorintech.com/articles/diversity-alone-will-not-be-the-solution-to-bias-in-ai/” source=”People of Color In Tech”]

[bs-title]Certain groups at greater risk for online attack in advance of 2020 election[/bs-title][bs-content]New research from the Palo Alto-based Institute for the Future’s Digital Intelligence Lab shows that Latinx, Muslim, and Jewish people and communities are being disproportionately targeted online with harassment and “computational propaganda,” in an attempt to co-opt conversations and sow division. “We think that the general goal of this [activity] is to create a spiral of silence to prevent people from participating in politics online, or to prevent them from using these platforms to organize or communicate,” the director of the lab tells Buzzfeed in this exclusive report.”In 2020 what we hypothesize is that social groups, religious groups, and issue voting groups will be the primary target of” this kind of activity.[/bs-content][bs-link link=”https://www.thewrap.com/members/2019/05/07/ex-cnn-anchor-soledad-obrien-calls-out-network-for-lack-of-diversity-among-executives/” source=”The Wrap”]

 

On Background

[bs-title]National Mamas Bail Out Day: A Mother’s Day gift for women in prison[/bs-title][bs-content]Speaking of attacks, the organization behind National Mamas Bail Out Day, the now annual campaign to bail black women out of jails across the country before Mother’s Day, is being targeted by right-wing harassers as I write this. “We’ve been notified that there’s been a call put out in an alt-right space to attack our site and this morning our site is down,” they tweeted. The women they serve have not been convicted of a crime, instead they languish in prison because they can’t afford to pay their bail or other fees associated with their pre-hearing detention. Most are being held for low-level crimes or things like unpaid fines; being detained puts jobs, homes, their mental health and vulnerable families at risk. The idea was first suggested by Mary Hooks, co-director of the Atlanta-based LGBTQ organizing project SONG. She describes it as “using our collective resources to buy each others’ freedom.” Here’s a great video explainer. Follow them on Twitter below, donate safely here.[/bs-content][bs-link link=”https://twitter.com/NationalBailOut?lang=en” source=”National Bail Out”]

[bs-title]How income inequality causes psychological stress[/bs-title][bs-content]NPR’s Hidden Brain recently explored the psychological stress that accompanies inequality; it affects individuals and the nation as a whole, says social psychologist Keith Payne and author of The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die.“We think about ourselves in terms of being on a certain rung with some people above us, and other people below us. Where we think we stand on that ladder tells you a lot about a person’s life and their life outcomes,” he says. If you’re lower down, you might be miserable, but you also might be more motivated. Higher up might make you happier, but also more complacent. As a country, anxiety associated with inequality has been associated with high risk behavior, political polarization, even homicide rates. Payne suggests a one day at a time approach to managing the psychological stress. Be “more mindful about the kinds of comparisons we are making on a daily basis,” he says.[/bs-content][bs-link link=”https://www.npr.org/2019/04/19/715145723/why-no-one-feels-rich-the-psychology-of-inequality” source=”NPR”]

[bs-title]For today’s college kids, the Rodney King beating was NBD[/bs-title][bs-content]”If you want to feel old, teach.” So begins this post from a nice-sounding guy named Ed, who describes himself as an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at “Midwestern Liberal Arts University.” In an attempt to raise a discussion of Rodney King and the L.A. riots, he was dismayed to discover that his students just shrugged after watching the grainy video. “This is a generation of kids so numb to seeing videos of police beating, tasering, shooting, and otherwise applying the power of the state to unarmed and almost inevitably black or Hispanic men that they legitimately could not understand why a video of cops beating up a black guy (who *didn’t even die* for pete’s sake!) was shocking enough to cause a widespread breakdown of public order,” he writes. [/bs-content][bs-link link=”https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2017/05/08/theres-way-worse-videos-todays-students-on-the-la-riots-and-rodney-king/” source=”The Society Pages”]

[bs-content]Aidan Taylor assisted in the preparation of today’s summaries.[/bs-content]

Quote

[bs-quote link=”https://twitter.com/chrissyteigen/status/383287131537678337″ author =”–Christine Teigen”]Barilla has a right to believe whatever they want. And I have the right to boycott them or fully fund a gay porn made in a tub of linguine[/bs-quote].