The New York Post sat down with a bunch of big deals to discuss diversity a little while ago. The article starts off with a short profile of Billie Williamson, Ernst and Young’s newly appointed, Americas Inclusiveness Officer. OMG. These corporate bullshit titles kill me. You’re a corporation. Just go with the whole lingo. Don’t make up new, huggy feely shit. Are we at summer camp? Should I run for the Camp Akinowa Cheer and Happiness Leader this year?
The Post also invited Ron Meraz, managing director of the office of diversity for Merrill Lynch’s Global Wealth Management division; David Lipscomb, vice president, diversity and inclusion at Sovereign Bank; Donna Pedro, chief diversity officer at Ogilvy & Mather; and Jino Ahn, the founder and CEO of Asian Diversity, Inc. While diversity is an issue for all companies, naturally, I was most interested with what Pedro’s two cents would be. The answer? Nothing new. She did say:
“This is not an overnight, let’s-change-an-organization type thing. It’s a process. And it’s really all about good talent. How do we capture the new talent coming in? And how do we manage them when they’re here? Because if you’re just looking at numbers, you’ll have constant attrition and turnover. It’s about, “Does the culture sustain those differences?”
How many times are we going to hear that swill? The real question is what these guys are going to do about it. Oh wait! Pedro has a plan:
“We also have what we call an employee advisory counsel, and we educate in a very different way as opposed to the traditional training. We’ve taken each of the multicultural months and done something fabulous. For example, for Women’s History Month, we invited Paola Gianturco, a photojournalist who documents women’s human rights issues around the world, to come in and show her photos, which was a phenomenal way to educate people. [Asian-American author] Jenny 8. Lee came in with her book “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles” during Asian-Pacific Heritage Month. We do quizzes online. I even threw a concert. And it’s that engagement that’s important. When people start interacting, what they work from is their similarities.”
Asking a woman to come in to speak, a concert, quizzes online? Hmm… and how has this boosted diversity at Ogilvy? Look, I’m not against engagement, but lets get real. Ken Wheaton‘s spanking of the agencies who didn’t show up at The New York City Commission on Human Rights is just another example of how da biz is all talk, no action when it comes diversity. Not one advertising agency made the list of Diversity magazine’s top 50 this year.
Let me help you guys out with my list of 8 rules for advertising agency diversity. Drum roll please…
1. Cut the crap. Promoting diversity inside your agency through education and entertainment is good, but that’s not actually going to defeat the underlying systemic problems with your shop. You have to do more. Music and games ain’t going to cut it.
2. Don’t be afraid. Mixing up the culture of your agency will lead to good things, not bad. The more women, Asians, Latinos and Blacks you have running around the shop, the more your agency will be able to speak to these groups fluently and with authenticity. Your bottom line should improve if you manage it right.
3. Start at the source. Get involved in a grassroots program for teens like this one by David Brown out of Philadelphia. AAAA offers a program in which advertising agencies can host multicultural talent from various colleges. If nothing else, sign up. Yes, the program has been around since 1973. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. Get on it.
4. Hire the right (wo)man for the job. Make sure that your HR director is firmly invested in creating a diverse agency. You can’t mix it up without someone who wants to stir the pot. That person also needs to be armed with forward thinking HR professionals who are dedicated to including women and Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Indians, etc in the process of their searches.
5. Don’t tow the line. Don’t assume the stance of racism whether you mean it or not. Don’t ask “colored” creatives if they can draw white people. Don’t wonder if your client will feel weird that there is a woman on the account. Think beyond yourself and beyond your client. If the person’s book is amazing, assume that they can deal with any culture you throw at them. If your adding a woman to top level role, make the client deal with his own misogyny on his time. If she does good work, the lady does good work. Case closed.
6. Don’t be lazy. Everyone loves to say that there aren’t talent women and ethnicites ready to participate at any level in the ad business. It’s BS. Sometimes they get a foot in the door to be worn down by the crapola shoved in their face everyday. And often, they’re out their freelancing their asses off, going to interviews and being passed over for someone that the hiring agent “would feel more comfortable with.” Breasts and/or colored skin can be a deal breaker. It’s just the truth of the matter. Face it and deal with it.
7. Don’t be a lazy intellectual. Of course, the best talent should get the job. Hands down, but if you aren’t even seeing women and other ethnicities come through your door, identity that your shop has a problem. We live in a world where there are still unseen barriers to entry. Think about it and talk to minorities to find out what those blockades are and how you can deal with it head on.
8. Don’t let people drown. Stay in touch with how your any multi-cultural, female or disabled employees are doing. In many cases, these people find the culture inhospitable. They suck it up until they can’t and bail for other industries. As Pedro did say, this is process. One which needs to be micro-managed from beginning to end.