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June 22

Gen Z and DEI: How Students Are Leading the Way


by | Jun 22, 2023 | Featured, Strategies, Podcast

Gen Z and DEI — diversity, equity, and inclusion — is top-of-mind across marketing channels, not just higher education.

That’s because as Gen Z starts to leave school and filter into the workforce, they’re leading the charge of reshaping our culture through a lens of empathy.

DEI has been kind of hijacked by politics, and it has become something that can be divisive.

But at the end of the day, diversity, equity, and inclusion should be about creating space for others on our campuses who might not be exactly like us or come from our own social background.

In other words, it is just the right thing to do, the right way to treat people.

Gambrell Gabrielle Gambrell, adjunct professor at NYU and Columbia University and founder of Gift of Gabrielle, suggests that higher ed marketers could learn a thing or two from their school’s students.

Gabrielle believes finding the pulse of your audience’s feelings and pursuing lifelong learning are key to nailing your higher ed marketing strategy.

Here are some highlights of our conversation with her on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast.

Gen Z and DEI: The New Generation Is Leading the Way

I’ve written before on the exciting characteristics of Gen Z students.

One of the primary observations we have on them is a keen sense of empathy for others who are not like them.

Early in our conversation, Gabrielle shared about the intimate connection between Gen Z and DEI.

I am passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion. It means quite a bit to me.

The majority of my students, if not all of them, are Gen Z. I feel honored to work with the next generation of leaders.

Gen Z is unique. I’m a millennial, and that used to be the hot phrase. “Millennials this, millennials that, and millennials think this, and the millennials feel that.”

Now, it’s all about Gen Z.

Gen Z is really responsible for pushing accountability in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion.

They want the companies they work for, the organizations they serve, the colleges and institutions where they study, to be reflective of the world we live in.

They want to make sure that their values are heard, that there are opportunities for them to grow.

So, shout out to Gen Z! [Because] there are opportunities for everyone to learn and do better in terms of DEI, [and they’re leading the way].

The Power of Empathy

A rule of thumb I use when working on a website or marketing project with my clients, especially on practical websites with loads of technical information, is to leverage the power of emotion.

Emotion is a big part of the way that we do marketing, the way that we communicate.

Using emotion is not about manipulating people’s feelings in order to get them to do what you want.

It’s about understanding how they’re already feeling, and meeting them there where they are.

When we’re talking about Gen Z and DEI, it has a lot to do with empathy. It’s about learning how to communicate, explore, and share empathy.

When you think of empathy and you think of feelings as a marketer, you don’t ever want someone to feel like they got hustled when people buy your product.

When people patronize your business, you want them to feel good about the product!

Don’t you want them to feel excited? Like, they got their money’s worth.

You’ve got to recognize what people are feeling, what people are thinking, and what’s happening in their lives.

[Even when things are tough], with that empathy, people will still buy your product. They’ll still patronize your business.

How would this advertisement make people feel? How would this marketing campaign make people feel?

Empathy, feelings, and emotions have a lot to do with the world itself.

Lean Into the Experts

Before we closed our conversation, Gabrielle gave us an amazing piece of advice that we all should pay attention to.

When it comes to Gen Z and DEI, “lean into the experts.”

My advice to higher ed marketers would be to never stop learning and lean into the experts.

If the expert is a 13-year-old, lean into that 13-year-old!

If it’s a 14-year-old content creator, respect what they have to offer. They may not know everything, but they may be an expert in their expertise.

They know what it is that they’re doing, and they’re doing really well.

Ensure that you’re taking what’s happening in the world, that culture element, and implement the things you see happening in the world.

Use these cultural elements to influence how you reach your audience, right where they’re at.

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Gabrielle Gambrell to get even more insights into:

  • Bringing private sector experience into higher education (2:53)
  • DEI and empathy in marketing campaigns (8:39)
  • Cross-industry marketing tactics and getting back to basics (18:41)

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Featured image via columbia.edu

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