After two decades of multicultural awareness and female empowerment discussions, marketing still has a way to go regarding diversity. But thanks to movements like Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and the ongoing immigration debate, women and minorities are increasingly speaking up about the need for marketing organizations to be more representative of the culture they engage.
In a recent diversity and inclusion training seminar, women and women of color in particular, sought to develop strategies to move up in the industry and bring others with them. SheRunsIt, the former Advertising Women of New York, organized the annual She Runs It Multicultural Alliance Bootcamp seeking to empower female marketers to take on leadership positions and beginners to consider jobs in agencies and marketing departments, in order to make them more representative of society as a whole.
“I think advertising has a large role in reflecting culture and society,” said God-Is Rivera, director of inclusion & cultural resonance at agency VML, which hosted the half-day workshop.
“I’m just over homogenous ideas and thoughts… It’s so boring,” said Patty Kim, director of talent acquisition at agency Conductor. Marketers want the community to represent the thoughts they are looking for and also to challenge them to see new things, she said.
SheRunsIt is one of several industry organizations arguing that, even after decades of targeting inclusion and diversity, racial and gender bias still endures in marketing and advertising. Industry advocates like SheRunsIt and the 3% Movement have zeroed in on the disparity between an industry where women make 85% of purchasing decisions, but only 3% of top agency creative directors are female.
The numbers show a shortage of women and minorities in management, said Traci Dinkins, EVP and managing director at Carat USA. “That is truly a pipeline problem we need to fix,” said Dinkins, co-chair of SheRunsIt’s multicultural alliance.
Time for New Steps
Ed Frankel, director of talent acquisition at Omnicom Health Group, said he has been working in the advertising industry for eight years and the lack of diversity was obvious even to him, a white male. He cited two studies separated by about 20 years that found no difference in inclusion rates in the industry.
“It is a slow crawl,” he said “It is frustrating.”
Frustration was a feeling invoked by several speakers, who called on the audience to channel that energy into making changes.
“Are we still having the same damn conversation we had in 1986?” asked Judy Jackson, global chief talent officer at Wunderman. Unless diversity advocates try some new things, “it’s the same dance,” she said. “It’s time to learn some new steps.”
Many speakers emphasized the need to build networks and actively recruit, but also for women to empower themselves to speak up and question their companies’ commitment. Helen Lin, chief digital officer of Publicis Media, noted she walked away from a glowing review, only to turn around and propose becoming the company’s CDO, since she was already performing many of the functions.
Many speakers sought to fire up the audience to work with purpose and focus on getting their due. Pamela El, chief marketing officer of the National Basketball Association, told the attendees to focus on what they want and not settle.
“Passion is so key… Heaven forbid you are passionate about the wrong thing,” she said. “It is a fire, and if you don’t have it you will die. And you will die because you will die of boredom.”
Several insiders noted that women and minorities are increasingly feeling empowered to channel that fire and change their workplaces to fit their authentic selves, instead of a corporate model. Demographics are in their favor, noted several speakers. The coming generations are more diverse and more accommodating of different views, said speakers.
Research shows in the rising Gen Z generation “people are really excited to be different,” said Sheila Marmon, CEO of multicultural content platform Mirror Digital. “That’s a 180 (turn) from what we saw a generation ago.”
Diversity Benchmarks and Superpowers
Companies are developing an awareness of the need for a diverse base of talent to service those clients, said speakers. “We are pitching all the time,” said Lin.
Don’t be bound by the confines of your job, advices Marmon: “Really own something most people don’t know about.” She recommended that professionals who feel they have hit a roadblock in career advancement push through and take on new duties. Most agencies are overworked and understaffed, so if a staffer asks for more responsibility “your supervisor is thanking you,” she said.
Also participate in the industry by joining committees and associations, said Lin: “That’s really key: Get involved,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid to speak up… you can affect change in any position you’re in,” said VML’s Rivera. “Just be authentic about creating a difference.” Know that in any position you can push inclusion and diversity, she said.
“Everyone in this room has a superpower too,” said Frankel. “If you’re in the building, you can influence.” He encouraged women and minorities to push and challenge bosses to make diverse hires, speak to schools about marketing careers, and make other efforts to develop diverse talent from within.
SheRunsIt launched an Inclusion and Diversity Accountability Consortium last December with the goal of developing benchmarks to measure progress, said Carol Watson, senior director, global member engagement at marketing firm Diversity Best Practices. The goal is “to create a call to action for the industry” she said.
The partners in the effort include the 4A’s and IAB; agencies such as Digitas, Leo Burnett and Publicis and marketers including Unilever and L’Oreal. DBP has asked companies to participate in surveys to develop an inclusion index to help companies target their efforts and SheRunsIt is targeting a release of data during Advertising Week In New York October 1-4.
“We’re all in this industry the beginning stages,” said Watson. “But we need to start somewhere.”