4A’s Conference – “Why Diversity & Inclusion can’t just be a talking point”

I’ve been in this industry for almost three years, and my ethnicity comes into play more often than I thought. In experiential marketing, having exposure to many cultures makes me reflect on how my ethnicity is perceived by an audience. More often than not, I’m explaining. Explaining what it is like to be ethnic and the cultural cues that come into play when creating an experience.

However, 2018 represents a very exciting time for the advertising industry. This year, 180 female agency leaders pledged to the #TimesUpAdvertising initiative, which will “drive new policies, practices, decisions, and tangible actions that result in more balanced, diverse, and accountable leadership; and create equitable cultures within our agencies.”

Most recently I became a co-lead for the #TimesUpAdvertising Task force 2, which aims to identify and mentor people representing diversity across the board and who are ready to become agency leaders. Part of my efforts on this initiative afforded me the opportunity to attend the recent 4A’s Accelerate Conference where many of the top female executives from advertising agencies met-up to network and exchange best practices surrounding D&I.

At the conference, the prominent topic was diversity and inclusion and the notable initiatives implemented by other top advertising agencies. The conversations surrounding diversity and inclusion sparked a reflection on its definition. I realized that the traditional definition of D&I doesn’t always fit.

Reflecting back to my first interviews out of college – in almost every interview or screening, I would hear, “What are you?” and I immediately knew where the conversation was headed and after I explained my ethnicity, I felt categorized. After multiple experiences like this I created two resumes, one with my Middle Eastern last name, and one with the “American” version. This is sadly is common with minority resumes. I would tip-toe around the fact that despite an agency saying it was “inclusive and loving diversity”, I never saw diversity within its leadership teams or in their work. This made it very hard for me to relate to the agency.

However, four years later, with #TimesUpAdvertising in motion, I am proud to say that Jack Morton is making significant strides within the D&I realm. Our #Jackwestside D&I team has grown and has worked to implement D&I initiatives every quarter aiming to bring our local community together and raise awareness for issues such as IWD, LGBTQ and more. With our D&I team efforts, we’re making diversity and inclusion more human and relatable.

Which brings me to an overarching theme that was brought up at the 4 A’s Accelerate Conference. What are we, as an industry, doing to humanize and bring diversity and inclusion to the forefront of our business conversations?

Below are two thought starters on how to begin to think about action and implementation with diversity and inclusion.

  1. Projects. More and more clients are looking to involve diversity and inclusion in their work. More often than not, this notion can be challenging if it’s not a part of the creative or execution process. In order to be a better partner to our clients, we need to involve diversity and inclusion in the ideation stage. Most recently, the WPP “Progress Brief” was released. This brief is a special nod to creative work, ensuring that “diversity and fairness is at the beginning of an idea, which will help the work better reflect the world and its consumers.”

From an experiential perspective, D&I isn’t in every brief, but we should always have it at the forefront of the experiences we build, not just when clients ask for it. The brands we work with are global, and if we fail to recognize the diversity and differences of those who will engage with us, we’ll miss massive opportunities. At Jack we have been involved in numerous D&I initiatives with our clients. Some work to mention are: HP, eBay and Google. In partnership with our clients we were able to create extraordinary experiences, by ensuring all audiences felt included and understood.

2. Agency Growth and Retention of Talent. In the context of #TimesUpAdvertising, diverse leadership matters because it holds an opportunity for younger employees to see a “future version of themselves”. We need to humanize the conversation. It takes time and commitment from the agency to come to a unified belief system for D&I in the workplace. It can no longer be a talking point. A few things to consider:

  • Give minorities’ access/ opportunities to meet with executive leadership and discuss D&I. Ensure that they are being heard and add value to the company culture.
  • Bring in experts from diverse communities to provide a unique perspective that your agency may be overlooking. The importance of understanding different cultural points of view and values cannot be overstated. For example, at Jack we have initiated and planned events around under represented communities. Earlier in the year we partnered with an elementary school to gain insight about assimilating to American Culture, and how inclusive partnership matters. With extending partnership within our local community we were able to present opportunity to those who may not have known marketing/advertising was an option for them.
  • From a mentorship perspective, transfer knowledge about difficult situations in relation to unconscious bias. The more you mentor and talk openly, the more you make everyone aware of bad habits and instill change. Currently in our Task Force 2, under #TimesUpAdvertising we are reevaluating our mentorship process across all offices to see how we can better support and understand needs of all levels within Jack Morton.

Working now for three years in the industry, I can truly say there have been significant strides to implement these tactics. At Jack Morton we have implemented D&I teams across our offices, that help drive and implement initiatives within each office to ensure that all minorities feel heard, supported and valued. We have also taken a leadership role with #TimesUpAdvertising implementing community events, speaking on a panel to discuss how D&I can be implemented not just at Jack but within all agencies, and building task forces specifically for women’s issues.

All these initiatives are a great start, but a lot more has to be done. Most importantly, when looking at our experiential space, I hope we have more new conversations as to what D&I means to an activation, campaign or live event and that we integrate the thought process beyond our local initiatives.

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