The importance of Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity: An interview with Fender’s EMEA Vice President of Marketing, Nieve Cavanagh

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At the MIA, we know that equality, diversity and inclusivity are fundamental to a successful musical instrument industry.

A diverse workforce means more innovation and creativity for MI businesses. The people that we’re lucky enough to have in our workforces drive the success of the industry. Working with people from different backgrounds with different life experiences and skills enable the team dynamics that lead to ground-breaking ideas.

With this in mind, our General Manager Alice Monk was delighted to interview Nieve Cavanagh, who is Fender’s Vice President of Marketing for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

In this interview, we explore how diverse Fender’s customer base are, Fender’s response to the #TheShowMustBePaused & #BlackOutTuesday, how Fender has created a diverse workforce and much more.

You can expect to hear much more from the MIA team about ways to encourage equality, diversity and inclusivity in your workplace. Watch this space!

Without further ado, here is Alice’s interview with Nieve:

 A: How would you describe Fender’s current thinking about equality, diversity and inclusivity, and how has your thinking changed over time?

 N: Equality, diversity and inclusivity are not just a priority but a necessity at Fender and their importance has only increased over time. We are proud to see this reflected in the diverse base of artist partners we work with and the players that we serve every single day. A great example of this is the marketing campaign for our American Professional II series of electric guitars and basses which kicked off last month – we felt honoured to launch with such a strong and diverse set of artists beside us. You can watch the launch video – featuring Este Haim, Michael Kiwanuka, IDLES, Orville Peck, Anna Calvi and many more – right here.

A: Have you done any research into your customer base and how diverse the people buying Fender products are? What are the findings?

N: We conducted extensive research into our customer base in an effort to better understand and cater to it – in 2018 we commissioned a huge piece of US/UK research with partner EGG Strategy. You can read all about the findings HERE– they continue to inform the way we develop and market products today.

What we found is that the market is more diverse than ever before. Women continue to define the emerging guitar market, accounting for 50% of new and aspirational players. The increase in diversity goes doesn’t stop there and goes beyond gender, also. Consumers from ethnic minorities now represent a significant and growing share of new players: Black players for example account for 19 percent of aspirational players.

A: Do you think that retailers could create an environment that is more attractive to a diverse range of customers? If so, how?

N: Buying a guitar can be an intimidating experience whoever you are, especially as a beginner.  We encourage retailers to create a welcoming experience.  In the industry, overall, representation is crucial. People – regardless of sex, age or racial identity – need to see themselves in the players we showcase to be inspired, so the more diverse our retail teams and artist rosters are, the more diverse audiences they’ll attract.

A: When marketing Fender products, how do you ensure that you are reaching and including all types of people. For example; the LGBTQ+ community, different ages, religion/beliefs?

N: Guitar does not discriminate. We know that at Fender – we are speaking to anybody and everybody. With all of our marketing efforts – from social media through to product demo videos – we really believe who we amplify says a lot about what we stand for.

We are proud of the diverse roster of artists we work with in our marketing campaigns – for example, our Fender Next programme, which is a cohort of 25 artists on their way to great things from all kinds of backgrounds and places around the world. We believe it is important that through our marketing we are offering something – or someone – that speaks to everybody, and always strive to show as much diversity as possible in our campaigns.

A: Did Fender participate in the Music Industry Black Out to support #TheShowMustBePaused, #BlackOutTuesday and #BlackLivesMatter? Have Fender made any commitments to supporting the black community following the campaign?

N: We did participate – these initiatives deeply affect not only the industry but our employees, our artists and our players. They are human issues. Our CEO Andy Mooney said it best in his open letter to the industry on the back of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign – we must continue to amplify voices of protest, voices of peace and voices of change. We are passionate about doing what we can to drive our own change, from making a financial donation to NAACP for video contributions from black artists on our social platforms over the summer, to reviewing our own internal HR policies to ensure that the relevant voices within Fender are heard more loudly and more clearly than ever before.

A: What has the success of Fender Play taught you about what females want when learning to play guitar? Are there noticeable differences from males?

N: Women have always been playing guitar and there is no shortage of incredible female players out there. When we did our research back in 2015 and then again in 2018, it opened our eyes even more to all the women around the world that are inspired to learn guitar. We’re not necessarily focused on the differences, but shared passion for music which is bringing us all together.

A: 22% of the UK population identify as disabled, which is circa 13.9 million people. How are Fender reaching this demographic?

N: It is extremely important to us that our products and brand are accessible to everybody – again, guitar does not discriminate. We work with and provide for artists with disabilities and very much want to do the same for millions of players and aspiring players in the UK and around the world. We would love to hear from any music fans with disabilities as to how we might be able to make our products even more accessible for them. We constantly build player feedback into our product development process.

A: Do Fender have any particular initiatives or ideas to create a more equal, diverse and inclusive music industry? If so, what drives these initiatives – is it purely commercial opportunity or is it part of Fender’s values as a company to diversify the customer base?

N: Equality of opportunity is a core Fender value and we believe that everybody benefits by a well-represented industry. Our mission as a business is to simply give music fans the tools they need to create the music they love and we know that music comes from all ages, ethnicities, genders, sexualities and abilities.

Just one positive example of change recently coming about at Fender – this year, we unveiled our first ever Signature Series model with a black female artist (H.E.R.), a partnership which had been in the works for a while. Representation is only the beginning.

A: A diverse workforce means more innovation and creativity for MI businesses. Working with people from different backgrounds with different life experiences and skills enable the team dynamics that lead to ground-breaking ideas. Internally, how does Fender create a diverse workforce?

N: This is about hiring more diversely and enabling positive conversation in the business. We recently introduced a new internal initiative for employees, to empower them to not only help identify areas that require change but to begin affecting that change. We definitely recognise we have work to do like other businesses in the MI industry and look forward to ideas that will be brought about via more open conversation internally.

A: Do you have any advice for other MI brands who want to become more inclusive?

N: Hire diverse, make commitments with cause (actions speak louder than words), and ensure that your workforce reflects your target market – representation is key.

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