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

By #AndradeSays Archives
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Kai Wright's keynote conversation with founder Jack Myers can be viewed on-demand here. I recently had the pleasure of attending the Jack Myers Leadership Conversation– Diversity and Media Education Summit-- virtually, of course -- where I sat in on several conversations about the "Future of Education for Media, Marketing, Advertising & Journalism – for Industry Professionals, Educators, Students, & Job Seekers." I don't think that this event could possibly have occurred at a more appropriate moment, and Jack Myers (founder of both MediaVillage and, who moderated this particular meeting of the minds, shared a similar sentiment, calling now "an especially relevant, critical, and pivotal time for education -- in America, and around the world." The summit – which included a panel containing Dean Gracie Lawson-Borders, Department Head Andrea Press, and Dean Mark Lodato of Howard University, University of Virginia, and Syracuse University, respectively – kicked off with a keynote conversation between Myers and Kai Wright, founder and curator of blacklist100.

So, who is Kai Wright, and what isblacklist100? Kai is many things, including an author, speaker, creator of the previously mentioned blacklist100, a Global Consulting Advisor for Ogilvy, and a Lecturer at Columbia University. He's also consulted for heavy hitting brands like Ford, IBM, Bank of America, Hewlett-Packard, and L'Oréal, as well as some major household names in entertainment, the likes of which include P. Diddy and Meghan Trainor.

In the week that followed the death of George Floyd, Wright posted his 8-page "Open Letter on Race" on LinkedIn (and as a video on YouTube). By Juneteenth, Wright's open letter had pulled more than 30,000 social interactions and inspired many of his peers to share their own stories. That energy, along with essays from and information about 100 Black culture-makers and thought-leaders (aka "change agents"), was curated into an e-book complete with working links to people and movements that are actually out here making moves. The theme of this interactive book: "A Call for Change".

After introducing the panelists Myers moved right into the conversation about diversity in the workforce.

"Only 14% of our [media and advertising] community is non-white, compared to 40% of the U.S. population, and while we're great advocates, we fail at activating and practicing many of the most basic tools for improvement." He went on to mention his embarrassment at the apparent inability of his professional community to utilize the resources in front of it in an effort to foster more diversity in their industry, but only just before asking Wright if, since the rejuvenation of the Black Lives Matter movement and the coinciding release of his blacklist100, he'd noticed a positive difference professionally,or at least evidence of one on the proverbial horizon.

Wright responded, "We are optimistic that the amount of energy that we've seen in the past two months is going to help sustain momentum as we reach an inflection point. Hopefully." In other words, if everyone keeps this same energy -- the same unifying energy that I personally felt a couple of weeks ago when people all around the world seemed to simultaneously take to the streets in droves in support of #BLM -- then the sky must to be the limit, right? Well, maybe not. As Wright put it, "that 14% number is not great, and [there are] a lot of companies that are not even at that 14% number."

Wright goes on, "On average within advertising we're at about 6-10% in terms of employment of individuals that are Black, and so in seeing those numbers, in seeing the protests, in having the conversations of town halls and listening to diverse voices from within, the blacklist100 was born from that; to help put a spotlight on the individuals that have ways to contribute to change, that have achieved change in other industries, that we need to be looking at from a model stand point, and from a framework stand point." This is why the blacklist100 document is as important as it is.

The summit, which took place over 90 minutes and was primarily education-based, was, at the end of the day, more or less about the same things that most "diverse individuals" are always talking about: Representation. Usually, I'd be referring to the visual representation present in the various forms of media that permeate the American Pop Culture landscape, but in this instance, I'm more referring to representation IRL. That physical representation, whether at a protest in Times Square, or in a post-COVID boardroom, or even virtually at this Media Education Summit, is pivotal to the success of all these inclusion-based endeavors, if not the actual endgame all together. Only through continued listening, understanding, and most importantly, action will we get anything positive of any real note done.

The conversation between Jack and Kai wasn't just eye opening. It was also reassuring. Not only as an indication that some progress had been had, but also that there are individuals concerned to make these endeavors the bulk of their focus in life. Wright said it himself, "Leaders are made in the moment; the moment chooses the leader, right? And so, we're at a very unique moment in time in which we need new leaders." Kai is more right than he knows, because he is one of those leaders.

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

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

Academics Invite Media Community to Partner on Advancing Diversity Retention by Jeff Minsky

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