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How to Create a Just World with Kelly Diels, Feminist Marketing Expert

This in-depth interview with feminist marketing consultant Kelly Diels explores race, processes, feminism, and the female lifestyle empowerment brand.

How to Create a Just World with Feminist Marketing Expert Kelly Diels

Summary: Kelly Diels, Feminist Marketing

On this week’s podcast, we meet Kelly Diels, a writer and feminist marketing consultant. The interview explores race, processes, feminism, and the female lifestyle empowerment brand.

Words of Wisdom

My feminism is inclusive and about justice. It’s about creating a future in which we all belong.

It’s fundamentally about justice. Now, my form of action is usually going to be through an inclusive gender lens. I’m always looking through the lens of how does this impact people of different genders? Who’s at the table? Who’s not at the table? And what do we need to do to change the conditions so that everyone can be involved in the decision making? That’s to me what my feminism means. Now, there’s a million other definitions of feminism, and certainly, mine is not the end of the deal. But that is what it means for me. And that’s how that informs the way I think, and the action I take and the work I do in the world.

Kelly Diels, Feminist Marketing Consultant

Transcript: Kelly Diels Feminist Marketing Consultant

Hello and welcome to the Women Conquer Business podcast featuring discussions with your host, Jen Mcfarland. Every week I discuss a different aspect of building a business while balancing it with an incredibly busy life. I share experiences, successes, and failures and answer questions submitted by you, the listener. Thanks for tuning in. Let’s get started. [music]

Kelly Diels is a writer and feminist marketing consultant. In other words, she’s a culture maker. She connects the dots between our individual lives and our culture so that you can take deliberate effective action to change both. Let’s listen in.

Hey, Kellly. I’m totally fangirling right now that you are so into systems and change goals. So can you share with us why you’re so passionate about that?

Okay, so what that means is we’re not leaning into the status quo, right? We’re not trying to be successful in the system as it is. We actually sort of fundamentally object to the way things are set up, and we’re going to do work. And we’re going to use our own livelihood activities, our own career activities, our own business activities to do the work of shifting that system. So let’s see. What would a systems change business look like? One that I can think of off the top of my head is a [inaudible] so a venture that [inaudible] is funding and supporting. It’s called bio selection. It’s out of the US. It’s founded by two very young brilliant women, and they have invented a chemical process for recycling materials that otherwise can’t be recycled. So actually a huge amount of what we put in our recycling bin just goes into the landfill because it’s too dirty to be recycled. So they’ve actually invented a chemical process for that material that’s too dirty to be recycled that they can recycle it and turn it into ingredients that other manufacturing processes can use to manufacture things that we love which means that those people, those companies, no longer have to buy petroleum-based products to create their products. They can use these recycled compounds instead. So what that does is gets us off the drug of big oil. Right? And so that is systems change work. So on the one hand, they’re reducing waste and saving things from the landfill which is like that systems change work, but then they take it to another level by turning that into compounds that enables other people to not buy big petroleum products. So huge systems change work. Right? So that is a revolutionary work, and then if we support that company and make sure that that company, while it’s in its infancy, gets supported and gets the capital it needs to expand and develop their processes and get new clients and expand them to new markets across the world, then we get more of that benefit. I mean, I’m just so passionate about that work and enabling those social entrepreneurs to do more of their brilliant work in the world.

Wow, Kelly. I really love the story of bio selection, and yet, I find that it’s really hard sometimes for people to think holistically, systemically, about the really big picture items as well as the really small task level. And yet, these are the things that are vital for change so how do you address that? And how do you think we can use these things in order to really make change in the world?

It’s actually not the easiest things to do. I read somewhere that that’s not really the way most human brains are set up to work, to see that big macro perspective. And we really have to train ourselves to do that. And I can tell you that– I went to grad school. And was writing all kinds of things with the word structural in it. And literally just realized four years ago, I had no idea what that meant at all. And what actually helped me start thinking systemically and structurally was a piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates called The Case for Reparations in the Atlantic. And that piece– what he did was he told a story about people buying houses on, sort of, rent-to-own scheme, so black families buying houses on rent-to-own programs, and how that wasn’t just a personal decision between the person offering that program and the family, but actually, that was like created by government policies, that redlined certain districts, made it hard for black families to get mortgages, and then they were, sort of, at the mercy of people offering these predatory rent-to-own programs. And then, took that back even a step further to how did that happen in the first place? And that is, there’s a history of slavery and all of those things.

So when he mapped all of that out in this just mammoth, incredible, I think it’s a 20,000-word piece in The Atlantic, it literally changed my life. I was like, “Oh, I get it.” it’s literally like the light bulb that went off in my head that was like, “Oh, racism isn’t personal. This has been shaped up for us by our institutions, our social fabric.” And that’s when I sort of had the idea or the thing came through me that culture is something that flows through us, sometimes without our consent, right? And then when we see that those choices are getting framed up, and our actions are sort of just these automatic things that have been framed up for us, that– I mean, it was life-changing for me. And now I think I’m starting to understand what systemic and structural means.
So after the light bulb came on, after having read the piece in The Atlantic, how did you change, maybe, how you navigate the world as a white woman who, like me, can make mistakes when talking about things like race in addition to gender.

So, I mean, I guess I would say my entire life until I read that piece by [laughter] Ta-Nehisi Coates was a giant error [laughter]. Because I really, at that point, was thinking in, sort of, a very neo-liberal kind of way about race was that some people are backward and not progressive and have– these ancient attitudes are going to die out, and it’s personal and it’s a function of bad character or cruelty or meanness, right? And now, because of reading that piece, I understand that that was a very skinny understanding of race and racism. And really, what I think is it’s baked into all of us. It’s kind of like the fish can’t tell that they’re in water because they’re in the water. This is like the air that we breathe is white supremacy. It’s baked into everything. And another way that sometimes helps people think about it is what some people call founders bias, if you want to think about it on a smaller level. So the bias of the founder of a business gets baked into the business. And I read recently about one of the bigger tech companies wrote an algorithm to help in its recruiting processes. And what it did was feed it all the winning resumes for, historically, all the people who got hired at that company and plugged in their resumes into the algorithm. And so, what it taught to the algorithm was to only hire men because it was disproportionately men that had been hired. And so, then the algorithm started rejecting resumes that had the word woman or women or had women’s names on it. So our bias for the status quo, what we come from, and the air that we already breathe gets baked into everything we do until we explicitly decide to start rooting it out.

So Kelly, how do we mind the gap as it were, knowing that there’s a tremendous space between where we are today and where we want to be in the world?

Yeah, I mean, I think this is the big twist in-between space where we’re in as people who want to create a different future and a different outcome. And a world in which we all flourish is, “Here’s what we want, this beautiful thing out there, where there’s justice, and equity. And here’s what we’re navigating, which is oppression and inequity.” And so how do we navigate the space between what we want and what we live in? This is sort of the central question of my life, which is we’re constantly making trades off. We’re constantly coming to new levels of awareness of like, “Oh my gosh, here I am the problem again, right? Here’s a new level of awareness. Here’s another layer of oppression that’s been baked into me and flowing through, and using my body and my mouth and my life without my consent years–” so that it’s just a constant negotiation process. And I mean, that’s the space that we live in right now. And so there isn’t any perfection or any way to do it without error. But we’ve just got to constantly be on our learning edge.

It’s really funny how we’re talking about certain things are just baked into our culture. And here I am sitting with a feminist marketing consultant. And I have to admit, I have a really complicated relationship with feminism. I’m undeniably feminist, in that I believe that people of all races and all genders deserve a fair shot, and it just doesn’t seem like that’s happening in the world. And yet, I also struggle because I don’t fit in with the ‘Soapbox feminist.’ And in fact, sometimes I feel maybe rejected by that group. So how do you reconcile all of that, and how do you define feminism?

Right. So I mean, my feminism is inclusive and about justice. Fundamentally, that’s what it is. And it’s about creating a future in which we all belong, and we all matter and we all flourish. So that’s for me what feminism is about. It’s fundamentally about justice. Now, my form of action is usually going to be through an inclusive gender lens. So I’m always looking through the lens of how does this impact people of different genders? Who’s at the table? Who’s not at the table? And what do we need to do to change the conditions so that everyone can be involved in the decision making? That’s to me what my feminism means. Now, there’s a million other definitions of feminism, and certainly, mine is not the end of the deal. But that is what it means for me. And that’s how that informs the way I think, and the action I take and the work I do in the world. And so my feminism – and I actually think this is a bit of a cartoon that I’m going to sketch out right now – is not about hating on anybody or excluding anybody or making anybody any person wrong. It’s about shifting the conditions so that we can all flourish. Now, even that cartoon that I sketched out is the cartoon of the angry feminist, the angry man-hating feminist. And that cartoon is fundamentally an invention of the media. There’s actually research out there that says feminists hold better attitudes towards men than non-feminist women. So it’s just a cartoon. It’s just a character. I’m not sure that really exists. But it certainly exists in our imaginations and animates some of our thoughts about what feminism is or isn’t and whether or not we’re going to accept the [mantle?]. And there was actually a fundamental use for an important emotion, and I don’t think we can severe off our emotions. We’re going to have all of them. But for me, when I feel angry it’s usually good information. It usually means that there’s an injustice, and I’m rightfully alerted to it. And my anger is saying, “Hello. Something’s wrong. And that’s an important warning sign in my body to pick up on that. Right? So then I can navigate it and stay safe or keep [inaudible] around me safe. I actually think it’s– yeah. It’s like an alert [laughter]. I think it’s really useful. But I think there can be a toxic form of anger. And [inaudible] in her book [inaudible] talks about this. Anger is really useful. It propels us into really positive useful action to keep people safe. And also if we internalize it and don’t have any way to helpfully express it we can lash out and harm people, and it can be toxic. So it’s important for women to be able to express anger so that we don’t internalize it and become toxic and then lash out and harm people.

One of the things that really separates you from other marketing people is this idea of the female lifestyle empowerment brand which in reading your website is an [inaudible] women must comply with and embody in order to be deserving of rights and resources and a marketing strategy that leverages social status and [white?] privileged create authority over other women. So I was wondering if you could speak to this a little bit more for everybody here.

When I first started– it’s interesting that we’re talking about anger. When I first started writing about the female [inaudible] power brand three years ago it was from a place of white, hot fury and heartbreak, serious heartbreak. And I would say over the last three years my fury has tempered a bit and now I have a whole lot of compassion. And because what I think the female lifestyle empowerment brand is, I actually think it’s our dominant cultural narrative about what it means to be the right kind of woman and the woman who deserves rights and resources in our society. So fundamentally, what that means in our culture is thou shalt be pretty. Right?

You [laughter] [inaudible] that as the first commandment for people who are socialized as girls and women. You must be pretty. That is your first responsibility in life. And if you are pretty then yes, you can also be smart and you can go to school and you can have a successful career and you can have all the things, but you must first be pretty. That is the fundamental foundation of your success. And so I think that has been conditioned into us. That’s the status quo. And so when I see a whole bunch of people– and let’s say people who are leading persona based brands, they are leading with the fact that they are thin, they are professionally pretty. They’re often former actresses, former dancers, people [inaudible] professions who’ve now moved in to be an entrepreneur in teaching other women how to be successful. And so they’re showing us how to lean in to a broken system and be successful in the status quo by leveraging their white prettiness, their white privilege, their thin privilege, their heterosexuality [laughter], all of those statuses in order to get one more status which is wealth and perhaps power but soft power, the kind of power women are allowed to exercise over other women. So that, yes, I would like to see a lot less of. And I was super angry about this and felt very angry about the people who were doing this because I was like, “They’re using a language of feminism, and they’re saying they’re empowering us. But really what they’re just teaching us how to do is a select field of us rich. And the rest of us who are fat or people of color or disabled who can’t use this path, too bad. And I was super angry about this and I was super angry about something in particular that one really famous one did that broke my heart. And in the last three years that anger is still there but it’s not as acutely pointed at any particular people and more I have this huge compassion because it is what’s conditioned into us. This is literally what we have soaked in for the last, well, hundreds of years but individually like 20, 30, 40 years. And I understand why people do it. And it still is not good for us. And so I have total compassion for us. Those of us who have done it, are doing it, and I just want to encourage us to imagine something bigger and better for ourselves. We absolutely do not have to be fit into this box. We can do something different and there is a way to create value and create thriving livelihoods in a way that is not about [inaudible] and cementing in place privilege and inequity or leveraging it to sell your shit. There is a better way and it is possible and divesting of the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand does not mean you’re now going to be broke.

I’ve seen a real intersection between the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand and the online coaching profession. I was wondering if you’ve noticed the same thing and if you could maybe speak to that.

Well, and I think in the coaching world, the online business coaching world, one of the things that I think does an enormous amount of harm that comes from the narratives of Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand is this notion that once you start a business, three months later you can have grossed $300,000. And you’re going to have this overnight success if only you rock this formula. And those results are– even in those programs– the absolute exception to the rule and people who are saying, “Look at this person. My student took this program that cost $10,000 and three months later, she had revenues of $300,000. And she’s having $30,000 months.” And that is not the normal result of even that program nor is it across time historically or currently, the way businesses are built. Most businesses grow across years and it takes time. And to set yourself up with expectation or to promote this expectation that someone can be an overnight success is actually a recipe for shame and for people quitting and not steering something through. Because six months in, they’re like, “Well, I still haven’t broken even and in fact, I’m losing money every month.” It’s like, “Yes.” Totally 100% normal. That’s exactly how 90% of us start out. And most of us aren’t actually flourishing until between years 3 to 5 and by the time you hit year 10, you’re rocking. Everything’s good. But these things build across time even online businesses. That’s not the normal result. So I just feel like that’s a lot of damage that’s being created by that narrative because it makes people feel like they’re failing and they’re not.

One of the things about the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand and these coaching systems that are promising tremendous results on compressed timeframes is that they’re also saddling businesses with systems that may not feel good or be right actually for the personality of the business or how they actually want to do things. It becomes this inauthentic process. And I was wondering if maybe you could share a little bit about that or if you even agree with the idea of things maybe not fitting and [how?] move forward. I’ll give you an example, which is to say that, for me, personally, I have resistance against having a Facebook group. And even though everybody says that I should have one.

We can apply that not just to financial things or systems that we’re putting in our business, we can apply that to how we’ve been required to show up online or in public. If you feel like you have to perform a character on your Instagram account or on your website, and that’s not working for you, that’s a really good sign, that is great information. That doesn’t mean you have a self-sabotage situation going on or that you have a success block that you need to go to therapy and fix which I tried to do. It means that there’s something that you’re being required to do or taught to do that is not working for you, and it’s not for you, and you can do something different. 100% have permission to do something different. And you’ll get better results when you do because you’re not going to be working against the sense of like, “I don’t like this, it’s not working for me.” So one of the dominant narratives, and I definitely fell down on my own personal Facebook group, because I didn’t think it out carefully. So one of the dominant narratives in the online world right now it’s to start a Facebook group. It’s very easy, you’ll have all these clients paying attention to you, it will grow your business, and totally true. Because when you have a Facebook group, people get the notifications that they don’t get from your page. So you do have more attention, and you can grow this community, and it can be really super fabulous and nourishing for everyone. And if you don’t, especially as a person with a dominant identity, so for example, I’m white, so a person with a dominant identity, if you don’t sit down and think about the power dynamics, and the privileges and the experiences of oppression that people are showing up within that group, because they’re coming from the air that we breathe. If you don’t have a plan to deal with that, and you don’t have a plan to deal with conflict in your group, then you are setting people up to be hurt. And I don’t see in any of the female lifestyle empowerment brand narratives where they’re teaching you like, “Here’s a 30-day course for setting up your Facebook group to skyrocket your revenue.” I do not see anybody taking really careful account of the damage we can do to each other in Facebook groups. And helping Facebook group owners and administrators and moderators have a plan for accounting for those power dynamics and for resolving conflict. And if you don’t have a plan to resolve conflict, then you have a plan to harm. So that is something I’ve learned from intimate experience, but it’s also something I’m observing. So I’m not saying don’t start Facebook groups, I’m saying start them very thoughtfully, and make sure you have the facilitation skills to moderate them. And that you have the social and structural analysis and cultural competency and knowledge of power dynamics and conflict to make sure that that space is a space in which people can flourish. Not to say that they’ll never be conflict, but that there are methods for resolving it.

I’d like to thank Kelly Deals for appearing on the Women Conquer Business podcast.

You can reach Kelly at And she would also like to invite all of you to subscribe to the Sunday love letter. It’s her weekly newsletter, where she shares feminist essays and invocations, and they’re really great as a subscriber. So please join us next week when we meet with Brenda Brian. And have a great week everyone. And if you really enjoyed the show, please share it with a friend. Thanks for listening.

Thank you for listening to the Women Conquer Business podcast. You can find us online at You can also connect with Jen on social media at Jen S McFarland on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. The show was produced in Portland, Oregon by Jen McFarland Consulting. Women Conquer Business is available on iTunes, Google podcasts, Spotify, and many other podcast apps.

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