"What was most powerful about Creative Tensions was that you're doing it live, in-person, with others who are very diverse," observed AJ Pandya, Executive Vice President, Managing Director, VM1, a dedicated Verizon unit housed within Publicis Media's Zenith, speaking about MediaVillage's Advancing Diversity Honors event at The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. The experience challenged his beliefs. "The fact that you know several participants in the room, made it a lot more real and emotional as you're trying to be thoughtful in your actions," he added. Pandya's upbringing as a South Asian Indian, born in London, moving to the south of the United States and then to New York, engendered a fair amount of tolerance and curiosity in his perspective of otherness. It also facilitated a deep understanding of what the power of diversity can do.
"Creative Tensions" is an interactive activity that explores the notion of "otherness" by having participants physically move across the room and place themselves within a continuum in reaction to various prompts. It was the main event at the Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors program, which Pandya attended in support of his client, Diego Scotti, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Verizon, who was being honored.
Pandya and Scotti are kindred spirits with diversity and inclusion ingrained in their DNA and in the pillars of their companies. Scotti was honored for the development of AdFellows and Pandya has been closely involved with the Publicis Media's Multicultural Talent Pipeline initiative and various Publicis Business Resource Groups including MOCA (Men of Color Alliance), where he is a member.
Pandya explained that Zenith has a long-standing history of engraining diversity and inclusion into its culture far before it was the norm. "When I think back fourteen years, Tim Jones had laid down our core mission, values and pillars and D&I was a massive piece of what he stood behind. I think the rest of the industry is playing a bit of catch-up as they coalesce around this culturally important initiative." He continued, "I feel very fortunate that I have been part of an agency where we've had the guidance of Tim, Dave Penski (CEO, Publicis Media Exchange) and Lisa Torres (President, Multicultural, who leads Publicis Media's Multicultural Talent Pipeline) For us, it is table stakes, it's not something that we have to create."
Pandya explained that AdFellows and the Multicultural Talent Pipeline are two initiatives that he feels very passionate about and he is intimately involved with both as a speaker and mentor. He is a believer that our industry would benefit from a communal initiative to drive diversity and inclusion. He said, "One way to do that is to urge as many people as possible to participate in the AdFellows program. Diego [Scotti] has created an 'in-a-box' version where literally anybody can take it and implement it in their company; by systematizing D&I strategies in a way that is super easy to implement is really valuable and frankly hasn't been done before."
"Everyone embodies diversity in some way, shape or form," he continued. "I think there is a new opportunity to engage audiences that maybe don't feel included by the current mechanisms and systems. I think the next opportunity [for D&I] is to identify creative ways to drive more participation from a wider group. We need to open the aperture a little bit to ensure that we're not excluding people."
"Diversity has been microscopically defined, yet there are thousands of ways we are diverse." For example, he continued, "I am a dad, which is massively important to me. But maybe we're not having enough conversations about what it means to be a father in the workplace today." The limited scope of what is considered under the diversity umbrella must become broader and more inclusive.
Pandya says his biggest takeaway from the Advancing Diversity Honors event and Creative Tensions experience was this: "There is a future state of diversity and inclusion that is undefined. We need to start putting as much effort into the new definition of diversity and inclusion as what we do with the current state. Creative Tensions was an important strategy to facilitate the iteration of diversity and inclusion from where it stands today into the future."
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