“I don’t like this person, I must know him better.” This quote from President Lincoln was the perfect capper to an engaging and compelling discussion about diversity and inclusion during Advertising Week.
Six CEOs came together to discuss the role of diversity in tech and advertising on a panel entitled CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion. Each executive spoke about how their company is embracing and benefiting from diversity and inclusion and how every company can make it a priority.
Diversity in Hiring
For Chairman and CEO of MDC Partners, Scott Kauffman, one struggle for diversity in advertising is sourcing – finding potential hires who want to be in the industry. “I worked with a lot of people whose fathers had been in the business. Their white fathers,” Kauffman said. “We haven’t done a great job of promoting ourselves.”
If people aren’t exposed to a certain industry, they won’t aspire to be a part of it. Kauffman has worked to develop a sourcing initiative to interact with people who know the industry and the community to expose kids to it early.
Keith Cartwright, EDC of Saturday Morning, attributed this sourcing problem to miseducation and poverty. “If you look at miseducation they’re not given the opportunity to see things like advertising. They only see things that are brought to them by television and their phone, such as music and hollywood,” he said.
There are creative people everywhere, but they’re pursuing other industries. Having recruiters specifically reach out to people who aren’t exposed to marketing, advertising, and tech will ensure that some of these creative forces are discovered.
Recruiting is a great first step, but getting women and people of color into leadership roles will inform real change in a company. To do this, people need to see that they can grow.
According to Michael Roth, Chairman and CEO of Interpublic Group, “There are a lot of younger people in our industry, the issue is do they rise in the company. That’s the opportunity we need to focus on.”
A way to achieve this is with mentors. Showing someone they have the opportunity to grow is the most powerful weapon. WP Engine CEO, Heather Brunner, is practicing this within her own company.
Brunner spoke to how important it is to be intentional when dealing with diversity. “Diversity attracts diversity. When people see other people like them thriving and growing, it helps promote other diversity within the organization. Focus, take risks, and with that intention you’ll create more diversity.”
According to CEO of Ariel Fund, John Rogers, if employees are presented with mentors they can relate to, they are more likely to feel comfortable enough to make moves for their career.
“People are comfortable coaching people that look like themselves,” he said. “We have to be honest with that and get that out in the open and get the approved mentorship.”
Raise Your Voice as a Leader
In a world full of opinions, it can be hard to know when to speak out about things and when to quietly make change. For someone in a leadership position, losing the respect of clients and colleagues is always a concern. The CEOs in the panel found more benefit in being vocal about their thoughts than trying to keep everyone happy.
Kauffman found speaking up about injustice rewarding even when others advised him not to. “My colleagues and agency network are human beings first,” he said. “If you have like minded people that are truly humanistic about the challenges we’re facing, we have a platform, we have a megaphone. It’s the unique position this industry is in to be able to shed light on what ails us and communicate about how to make the world a better place.”
Roth agreed, “We have to continue to speak out, and not just talk about it but do things about it. How do we instill that in the DNA of your organization?”
For Brunner, being vocal about diversity and inclusion creates more inclusion. If employees are in a space where they feel safe to bring up tough issues and have a real conversation, real change can be made.
“We as business leaders have a role to play in breaking the cycle. To have true inclusion all voices need to be on the table,” Brunner said. “If we can be a place where you can be your authentic self it creates a really special level of conversation.”
Talking about diversity brings it to the forefront where issues can be discussed by all parties. Being a leader means setting the tone for a company or group and showing employees and customers exactly what you stand for.
Along with the humanist benefits of including people from different backgrounds, there are huge financial and business gains to be had from having a diverse staff.
According to Brunner, WP Engine’s staff is incredibly diverse. 30 percent of her staff is made up of people of color, 35 percent of employees don’t have a college degree, and 5 percent identify as LGBTQ. The leadership team is just as impressive boasting 60 percent women executives.
“That diversity is really fueling us and we’re finding creating a pathway for technology for those who have the aptitude, work ethic,” Brunner said. “If we can open that and then invest in them when they come in, we’re building a level of loyalty and performance that is paying incredible business dividends.”
A diverse employee base allows for different ideas to come about. Ones that may not have been on the table before. Especially in advertising and marketing, people want to see images they can relate to.
“My first meeting with senior officers of agencies were all white males. From a business point of view it made no sense when you think about the consumer and what our clients are trying to do and us providing insights and storytelling. When you have creatives from all over the world with all different backgrounds, the work that comes out is better,” Roth said. “That’s what clients are looking for.”
Cartwright agreed pointing to the fact that reaching out to different markets allows for more business opportunities. “Diverse thinking brings about more financial gain.”
While it certainly isn’t the only reason to strive for a diverse workplace, finances can’t be ignored in business. The more kinds of people you appeal to, the larger your customer base will be. No company ever suffered from more unique ideas.
So what can marketing, tech, and advertising leaders do to create more inclusion and diversity? Continue to talk about the issues.
“It’s great of CEOs to sign action documents and hopefully set the stage and create the safety net to have uncomfortable conversations but whether you’re running a global empire or you’re managing a department of one, you’re all leaders in your own right,” Kauffman said. “Get in touch your unconscious biases. Be a thought leader and change agent.”
Be present when thinking about diversity, and realize it’s something that could always use improvement.
“We are on a journey that is not going to end as long as I’m on this planet and we can’t become complacent and we can’t become in any way satisfied,” Kauffman said.