Academics Invite Media Community to Partner on Advancing Diversity Retention

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In discussing with my industry colleagues, the main topics that have dominated their lives within the agency walls over the past couple of months, two themes are clear: Upfronts in the Age of COVID, and a dominance of almost daily discussions and actions around diversity. As evidenced by the numbers in the table below, it's about friggin' time. Yet, as hopeful as we should be, and notwithstanding GroupM's important hiring of industry veteran Kirk McDonald as CEO, the reality is working against immediate change.

The simple reality is that in the current economic environment, there is very little hiring that will be done. However, actions taken now can reverberate and pay dividends for decades, as discussed by academic leaders in the recent Media Education Summit hosted by Jack Myers and available for on-demand viewing here, Myers, founder of MediaVillage and, engaged in a wide ranging exploration of partnership opportunities between academia and the media and advertising community that could contribute to long-overdue advances in diversity and inclusion.

Participants in the Leadership Conversation included:
Kai Wright, founder & curator of blacklist100
Dean Mark Lodato, S.I. Newhouse School of Communication at Syracuse University
Dean Gracie Lawson-Borders, Howard University, Cathy Hughes School of Communications
Andrea Press, Media Studies Department Founding Head, University of Virginia

Wright, a partner at Ogilvy Consulting, lecturer at Columbia University, and founder and creator of blacklist100, a digital book and organization that spotlights the top 100 Black culture and thought leaders from various industries, kicked off the discussion around the impact of the current moment of opportunity to advance a more diverse workforce. With the groundswell of attention, support, and corporate introspection spurred by the protests following the murder of George Floyd this appears to be a pivotal moment, although Wright has seen this play out before.

Says Wright, "We are optimistic that the amount of energy we have seen in the past two months is going to help sustain momentum as we reach an inflection point. That said we have to start doing things differently and put ourselves in uncomfortable positions." Wright gives partial credit to his joining Ogilvy in 2007 to a previous 'pivotal moment' following a UN Human Rights commission program that involved the 16 largest agencies committing to increasing diversity and signing a pledge to release their diversity numbers They did it for three years. Then the moment passed. "Now, "says Wright, "we're in this other period of momentum in 2020, and we have to make sure that it continues longer than it did before."

Wright, along with Lawson-Borders, Press and Lodato, came to a consensus that progress had been made by the advertising and marketing industries when it comes to entry-level through mid-level diverse hiring, and they emphatically agreed that the core focus of future efforts must now turn to retention and advancement into the C-Suite.

According to Wright, the lack of role models, promotion, and advancement of Black men in the Advertising world and in corporations in general, is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. "Most Black men," says Wright, "by the age of 40, go and start their own business. Whatever that business is. Within Corporate America, even outside of agency world, we see this trend of individuals making a zag when they're not able to progress."

Wright sees continuing mentorship, feedback, education, and training as the key to improving that retention and advancement challenge. However, he believes now is not the time for incrementalism, but for bold action. "If we try to get progress using the same tools that we have had, I fear, we will not revolt enough to evolve into what we need to become. What is the radically different option that we should put on the table?

Dean Lodato agreed on a bold approach. "You have to take some risks to have real change. Whether it's an educational institution like ours or a corporate environment, I think a lot of us need to be taking more chances, which could really reveal more advancements in these areas. But also know that we may fail. I think failure is okay because failure means you are trying new things, and in my mind that's innovation."

There is no question that bold approaches are necessary. The advertising industry must not only come together to create curriculum that reflect diverse voices, but also put in the time and investment to partner with academia to see those programs put into practice. UVA's Press invited the industry to partner with her. "I've been thinking more and more about the idea of industry partnering with our media faculty on joint projects and investigations and large-scale endeavors that can involve students at every level, undergraduate and graduate. And I'd really love to extend an invitation from the University of Virginia faculty for these kinds of efforts."

As important as it is to ensure that college students find real opportunity in the media, advertising, and marketing business, it is equally important to provide junior-mid-level employees with relatable role models. Internal training in the age of remote work is more critical than ever, not just in upskilling employees, but setting the culture. Providing newer employees with diverse instructors, not only provides intelligence, but inspiration and aspirational value. It's imperative that, as an industry, we work to build a deep bench of diverse talent. Myers, Lawson-Borders, Lodato, Press, and Wright outlined several opportunities for a collaborative effort between the industry and academia that will be announced as part of the 2021 plan of action to be announced soon.

John Wren - CEO Omnicom, Q2 2020 Earnings Call
"Over the last decade, our Chief Diversity Officers and the open leadership teams have made tremendous progress and brought significant changes to Omnicom and our agencies. During these difficult times, they have also led discussions on what more we can do to support our black colleagues and people of color. These discussions played a key role in the development of OPEN2.0, a strategic framework that will strengthen and expand our DE&I initiatives and advance the OPEN tenants of culture, collaboration, clients, and community.

"The degree of success of OPEN2.0 will be measured in the aggregate across all Omnicom agencies and will be an important factor in the compensation of the executive officers of Omnicom and the CEOs of our networks and practice areas. OPEN2.0 will build upon the base we already created at Omnicom, accelerate our progress and ground us in accountability."

Michael Roth, Chairman and CEO, Interpublic Group, Q2 2020 Earnings Call

"At IPG, we know that we can make more of a difference. We have recommitted to listening, to learning, and most importantly, to action in support of social and economic justice for Black Americans and for all people of color. We are a company that lives in the culture and has a voice in the culture. We understand that we have a responsibility, and that the journey of rising to that obligation makes us a better company in every way. We're taking actions within IPG and in the advertising and marketing messages that we create to further the cause of racial equity."

Also read:

Howard University Dean Gracie Lawson-Borders on Pipeline, Retention and Media Partnerships by Phil McKenzie

blacklist100's Kai Wright on the State of Ad Industry Diversity Advances by Ainsley Andrade

"Let's Not Be Afraid to Take Some Risks" — Higher Education Is Ready to Innovate to Save Media by Oriana Schwindt

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