Agency Diversity Efforts: Are They Working?

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Like many companies and brands, ad agencies, too, responded to events of last year and called for diversity and inclusion with various initiatives. Agencies were probably driven to act more quickly after the CEO of The Richards Group made what even many of his staff felt were racist remarks during a staff meeting. As reported in an earlier article, many of the agency’s large clients and staff members left following that incident.

One agency that reacted quickly was the Publicis Groupe UK. It committed 45 million pounds last summer to launch Embrace Change, a program aimed at fostering diversity, inclusion, and social justice. The main goal was to attract more candidates from minority groups while creating an environment that encouraged people from under-represented groups through their journey in pursuit of careers and leadership positions in the advertising industry.

Brooklyn-based Huge set a goal of increasing minority enrollment in its XD school for creativity and design. The 10-week online course will be conducted this summer from Huge’s Oakland office to give students a foundation on which to turn concepts into digital products. The firm is also collaborating with nonprofits on racial justice and change.

Further attention to D&I and equality is expected to be on the agenda at this year’s World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) annual conference which will be held virtually in late April. Among the main speakers will be the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt. WFA’s ambassador for global diversity, Belinda Smith, characterized minority representation in the industry as being “shoddy” in a recent interview with The Drum.

Smith added that she had issues with the ability to disable structural prejudice within the industry. To blame in her mind are a couple of things. One is a preference of many agencies to lean more heavily on educational requirements and the privileged universities applicants graduated from. She maintained that minorities still don’t get treated and screened fairly and cited studies that show that applicants with non-white names don’t even receive callbacks.

Jerry Daykin, a volunteer with WFA’s Global Diversity Task Force and commercial director at Advertising, said a major problem is making the workplace more inclusive even after minority groups join. He said he’s witnessed more minorities in junior roles but has also seen many leaves or forced out before having the opportunity to step up in agencies. Smith said it’s up to the agencies to repair their recruiting and inclusion challenges.

One solution to advancing D&I may be the inclusion of a third element, “belonging.” This is what tech company Benevity identifies in its publication, “Belonging: The Third Piece of the Diversity & Inclusion Puzzle.” By creating an environment where everyone feels like they deserve to belong, physical and emotional health improves as does performance.

An earlier article cited ways in which to foster an inclusive workplace. They included celebrating different cultural days, including other communities like LGBTQ. Encouraging employees to volunteer and donate to whomever they wished and directing the brand’s community partnerships to groups that also support D&I were identified.

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