Advancing Diversity Week 2021: Woolmington, Reilly, Walker and Dunleavy on Igniting Diversity and Creativity

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There is an old adage that we are creatures of habit and take solace in the familiar. But to spark true creativity, it is imperative that we develop deep relationships with people from different backgrounds and life stories, says Adam Galinsky Professor at Columbia Business School. In advertising and media that mandate is ever more critical as our creative and media teams conjure up new jingles, :06 interstitials and hashtags to appeal to the growing number of multicultural consumers that are slated to become an important part of the American demographic mix. During Advancing Diversity Week's "Marketing Through a Diverse and Inclusive Lens" panel, moderated by Hero Collective CEO Joe Anthony, four industry leaders discussed how to go beyond good intentions to concrete actions to create and sustain a diverse, dynamic and differentiated industry. (You can watch the panel in its entirety in the video above.)

The panelists pointed out the key considerations in ensuring greater representation, drawing on their extensive experience from launching new agency businesses to driving growth for beloved global brands. They shared the principles and best practices to ensure representation is not just a buzz word in the latest press release, but a living, breathing expression of the actions of teams and leaders.

Multi-dimensional Diversity

One of the key principles of building representation is understanding the power of intersectionality. "Diversity needs to be intersectional and we need to ensure we go beyond gender diversity," said Rob Reilly, Global Chief Creative Officer at WPP. "We focused on females and have done a good job there, but we have done a poor job with the BIPOC community.

Paul Woolmington, CEO of Canvas Worldwide, reminded attendees that achieving this "is a marathon, not a sprint." He also talked about "viscerally building the pipeline." At Canvas, leaders have focused on championing a more robust pipeline of diverse talent through mentoring and scholarships. Woolmington also highlighted the four main barriers to diversity in the creative field: lack of awareness of creative careers, inadequate funding for diversity programs, weak industry networks and absence of role models.

General Market Misconception

Another key theme the panelists highlighted was the industry predilection to having very strict market definitions that are very binary: that is, having general market or niche multicultural segments and then relying on non-diverse traditional agencies to come up with campaigns for specific under-represented audiences that they seldom have deep insights on.

Derek Walker, owner of agency Brown & Browner, highlighted the case of the runaway success of $5 billion brand Fenty Beauty, which was launched in 2017 by Rihanna. By offering an impressive variety of darker cosmetic color shades, it addressed an important unmet need in the beauty industry offerings for Black women and women of color. Fenty Beauty also garnered international recognition for diversity in its advertising campaigns, which prominently featured numerous Black models and other models of color and also showcased makeup usage across gender lines.

"Think about how much damage that did to agencies that didn't present this enormous opportunity to their large global beauty companies," Walker said. He emphasized that multicultural agencies often are approached to work on specific, niche campaigns that are "purely transactional and not transformational in [their] impact on the wider business."

Talent Melting Pot

Christina Carey Dunleavy, Vice President, Commercial Operations at Walt Disney emphasized, "it is important to show emerging BIPOC talent that it is not just about creative and marketing, but also finance, operations," and other areas, and to remind them that these capabilities exist and need to be solved for. She also highlighted the dual life that many members of the BIPOC community live, where they feel the need to "deliver perfection and where they have to put their true selves to the side when at work."

The talent melting pot is not just about talent inside agencies or media companies. Reilly reminded us that "it is highly important for clients to be part of the solution. We are all part of the solution.

Business Impact of Diversity

It has been well documented that diversity is good for business, as Walker highlighted during the panel, but he noted that he is struck by how little company policies, procedures and actions have kept up with this imperative for growth.

According to Woolmington, it is about fixing misalignment and "getting the right content in the right context to the right contacts -- it is always the 3 Cs. Companies need to spend time and resources on getting this alignment right."

Joe Anthony further explained what this alignment looks like in organizations that are getting diversity right. The key to inclusive outcomes, all the panelists agreed, rests with strong leadership that is empathetic and willing to go beyond the rhetoric, to actually take visible and measurable action.

The Road Ahead 

At the end of the day, all the panelists concluded that diversity is a collective issue we have to solve together, and that it is critical to open up spaces where other people's voices are heard.

As we look at the road head, we know there are a number of digital tools and resources to help companies nurture and capture the business impact of diversity -- from hiring platforms like Hive Diversity to creative D&I scorecards measuring the inclusiveness of advertising messaging like Kellify to one-on-one digital mentoring for aspiring female leaders with Pep Talk Her. The industry faces an urgent need to identify, prioritize and invest in the enablers of value -- from these digital tools and how they intersect with current IT stacks to human capital decisions on attracting, hiring, retaining and developing a truly inclusive, nurturing environment where diverse voices can thrive and soar.

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