Advancing Diversity Week 2021: Confronting the Diversity Challenge

By MediaVillage Education Foundation Archives
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You have to admire the optimism, energy and determination of the practitioners / executives who are leading DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging) initiatives at ad agencies and their clients.  What they're taking on is the complex job of changing organizational cultures and attitudes --without any formal power or time-tested tools that can assure success. If this were not difficult enough, they're doing so at a time when agency and marketing cultures have been under enormous threats from technological and financial upheavals in the industry. DEIB initiatives, which might flourish in growing and successful organizations, have a much tougher time when growth is low and employee retention is already problematic. MediaVillage's virtual Advancing Diversity Week event (Sept. 20-23) brought together many executives who are engaged in DEIB initiatives. Here are some of their thoughts and concerns as expressed during the panel "4As and 4As Foundation Presents: Embracing a Comprehensive Vision of DEIB." (You can watch the entire panel in the video above. A video of a related Advancing Diversity Week conversation, "Building Inclusive Leaders," can be found below.)

"Belonging is a feeling, different from the things we can measure, like diversity, equity and inclusion," observed Sara Porritt, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Omnicom Media Group, in the 4As session, moderated by 4As President Marla Kaplowitz. "Belonging is a something a little harder to capture. It's an outcome in an organization that has greater empathy. We offer training around empathy as one way of getting at it, but it's not entirely direct."

Jeff King, CEO of Barkley, the creative agency, emphasized the need to measure progress and outcomes. "Retention" is our biggest measure, and we segment it by seniority level and under-represented folks in the agency," he said. "We conduct surveys on a weekly basis and look at our turnover rates every month. If we're going to bring more diverse perspectives into our agency, we need to make sure that they are thriving. So, we have to measure our outcomes."

Geraldine White, Chief Diversity Officer of Publicis Groupe, agreed with King. "We have a consistent commitment to report on our diversity numbers and making sure that are continuing to improve year over year," she explained. "It's a key part of our Pausing for Action initiative, which recently reported small but steady progress, with a 5.5% increase in diverse talent versus last year. Still, our leadership remains non-diverse, so we have some way to go."

Jeff Marshall, Chief Diversity Officer and Head of Diversity, Equity & Belonging at UM Worldwide, agreed with White. "If we're being completely honest with ourselves, our numbers have been the same for 20 years," he said. "My hope is that we continue to keep the pressure on ourselves to act. We're doing something like learning how to make blueberry pancakes. The first inclusion efforts grilled the pancakes and then sprinkled some blueberries on top. A lot of the blueberries got lost in this process. We're smarter today. We learned that we need to fold the blueberries into the batter and grill them all at once. That's what we're trying to do with DEIB. And, you know, it does feel a little better today than it did yesterday."

"One of the things I have observed over the course of my career is that many leaders like myself are trained as problem-solvers," said Mita Mallick, head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact at Carta, the equity and ownership software company, in the "Building Inclusive Leaders" conversation with Ronda Carnegie, Chief Innovation Officer at The Female Quotient. (Their conversation can be seen in its entirety in the video below.) "We're programmed to find answers, to fix whatever is broken. Yet the discrimination and racism that exist in our culture have been around for a very long time, and they cannot be eliminated through direct problem solving. To help the diverse people in our organizations have a greater sense of belonging, we need to be listeners, not problem-solvers. We need to let individuals share their experiences with us. That may leave us feeling uncomfortable -- there's no closure -- but more one-on-one listening is what we must do."

Mallick has had a distinguished marketing background at J&J, Avon, Pfizer and Unilever, so she understands organizational dynamics -- but as the U.S.-born child of Indian parents, she experienced racial bullying first-hand as a child. "Once people are treated as 'the other' -- someone different in some way -- they find themselves in a gateway of hate," she explained. "It begins in school yards and classrooms, but it follows us into conference rooms and corporate America. We only mitigate it when we let someone know that they are truly valued, reversing the idea that they are 'different' in some way. So DEIB comes about when we genuinely show individuals that they belong and are valued. It takes personal time, commitment and listening. Its value cannot be measured."

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