4A's @Talent2030 Takes on the Black Employee Journey

By 4A's InSites Archives
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The spotlight shone brightly on the notion of talent in two distinct ways over the past week. On the marketing/advertising industry stage, the 4A's hosted their Talent@2030 virtual event focusing on the transformational potential of employee-powered culture. Over two days, a myriad of conversations were designed to provoke new ways of aligning the employee experience.

One of the event highlights was the panel session "The Importance of the Black Employee Journey," moderated by Tamiko Evans, Senior Vice President Marketing, Communications & Events, 4A's. She was joined by guest participants Khristy Nguyen, Senior HR Manager, the Community; Taylor Wesley, Management Supervisor, FCB NY; LaRonda Davis, Senior Vice President Creative Director, Publicis NA, and Terea Shaffer, Cultural Curator Director, Saatchi & Saatchi. These women were uniquely qualified to square off in this conversation.

At the same time that I watched these five Black women discuss their victories and travails navigating an often-unforgiving work environment, there was another interrogation of the Black professional journey. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court, was subject to Senatorial hearings that for many Black professionals felt far too familiar. Our career arcs might not culminate in a seat on the Supreme Court, but we could watch in collective horror at the disdain Judge Jackson had to endure.

I was struck by the split-screen sadness of this professional reality acting out and being discussed in real-time. Every sigh, every clenching of the hands was a testament to the patience and grace employed to deal with mediocrity masquerading as an arbiter of your credentials and accomplishments.

For a Black woman facing the scrutiny of a hostile environment, the Senatorial hearings were proof that the journey was going to be distinct and painful no matter how high you get.

The Black Employee Journey is not an abstraction of ideas and wishful thinking. It is the lived experience of countless professionals who have to make a herculean effort to show up day after day and thrive in an environment that works against their success.

The Black Employee Experience is not limited to the form and function of work as a list of expectations, responsibilities and deliverables. It is a holistic conversation that asks us to consider how Black employees physically and psychologically manifest their reality while at work. In her opening remarks, Nguyen distinguished between experience and journey, saying, "DEI is still top of mind, but the focus has to capture the E [Equity), as that will encourage Black employees to stay in their roles. Psychological safety -- which means attention on belonging, support and trust -- will turn it from an experience to a journey."

Every journey has a beginning, noted moderator Evans, astutely shifting the conversation to retention. Can the industry deliver on equity promises if it can't attract and retain Black talent?

A journey also requires a "north star" for guidance, and Shaffer shared why that matters. "We are looking for people within leadership positions that are proof we can rise and achieve to higher levels, but often that is lacking," she said. "The lack of that support can negatively impact your perception of the possibility of success." Creating a roadmap absent models of upper-level success can call the entire Black employee experience into question.

Acknowledging these obstacles and barriers invites us as listeners to interrogate the possible ways forward that work for Black employees and industries failing to adequately address diversity. Any arduous journey is made better with a solid community to provide support. "This goes way beyond entry-level positions," said Laronda Davis of Publicis. "We have to think about the actionable steps from an organizational perspective once employees walk in the door to provide mentorship and support."

There is a natural apathy and organizational malaise that can stall progress. Community and inquiry can push past that inclination. "Organizations need to assess their decisions when evaluating talent," Davis explained. "It is not enough to say there wasn't a culture fit. If candidates aren't finding success, we have to ask why. Suppose you can't answer what you're specifically doing to attract Black talent. In that case, you're not doing enough."

Community support acts informally and formally, and the commitment of programs like the 4A's Multicultural Advertising Intern Program (MAIP) fill those voids. Wesley, FCB NY, cited her background as both a MAIP alum and Vanguard Fellow as part of her success. "Organizations need to strive to embody the future state in the now," she said. "Theories have to be put into practice, and Black talent is owed an answer as to how we are designing our workplace and leadership as a proof point that there is a viable path to success without constantly having to break glass ceilings and forge new paths."

In other words, the community must be replicable and exist in actual time realities. Aspiration is not enough.

Any industry is only as relevant as its people. The entire future of the advertising/marketing industry rests on whether it can solve its most pressing problem: the attraction and retention of Black talent. Highlighting these challenges while also centering the enormous promise of the Black employee experience is the flip side of the same coin. But what we do know is that Black employees are seeing their struggle play out in the most visible of forums. Whether you watch riveting conversations like this Talent@2030 panel or the more prominent news cycle, one can't say they didn't know. It only matters what you did once you bore witness.

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