Gen-Z Speaks Truth to Ad Industry Power at Inaugural Gen-Z Town Hall

By Advancing Diversity Archives
Cover image for  article: Gen-Z Speaks Truth to Ad Industry Power at Inaugural Gen-Z Town Hall

The advertising and media community’s inaugural Advancing Diversity Week (Sept. 20-23) closed with the Gen-Z Town Hall, empowering current and soon-to-be team members to ask questions to senior industry leaders who were recently inducted into the Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors. The event reinforced the Advancing Diversity Week emphasis on creating a welcoming environment to both attract and retain the emerging generation of influencers and leaders who will guide the industry's future. The Town Hall featured 12 Gen-Z participants, each asking a question to one of three panels of industry leaders. (View the full Gen-Z conversation with senior industry leaders in the video above and at  AdvancingDiversity.org.)

GEN-Z TOWN HALL PANEL 1

The first panel of Hall of Honors Inductees included Byron Allen, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Entertainment Studios; Tina Davis, Interim Chief Marketing Officer at Citi; Gaye Hirsch, Executive Vice President, Development at The CW, and Marla Kaplowitz, President and CEO of 4A's, who, along with P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard, opened the Town Hall with a keynote conversation with Ronda Carnegie, Chief Innovation Officer of The FQ and co-chair of the Advancing Diversity Council.

The Gen-Z questioners were Tiffany Jeung, Senior Corporate Marketing Coordinator, NPM Marketing; Eileen Lin, Ad Sales Coordinator, A+E Networks; Kate Gonzalez, Event Marketing Coordinator, Univision Networks, and Langston Peoples, Marketing Experience Analyst, American Family Insurance.

What are companies instituting to help with new hires' challenges connecting with their coworkers and networking with senior level employees?

Eileen Lin kicked things off with a question regarding current workplace cultures amidst the ongoing COVID pandemic. "Office drive-bys and water-cooler chats have disappeared," she said. "What are your companies instituting to help with new hires' challenges connecting with their coworkers and networking with senior level employees?"

Byron Allen was the first to answer. "I would never tell my employees this, but I like you at home!" he said with a big laugh. "We’re connected, we’re talking, texting, e-mailing. I’m more connected with my employee base than ever before. I want the pandemic to end but I want us to stay in a pandemic state, so we can stay home, be with our families and save money, and work more efficiently."

"One of the things we introduced was the 'future of work' model, where some will be 'residents' and work in-office Monday through Friday while others will continue to work exclusively remotely," Tina Davis shared. "Certain positions will be hybrid because we believe that in-person collaboration is important. We started Coffee Chats where our CEO and senior leaders get together with random groups of colleagues in an unstructured environment to just talk about whatever issues are going on. We're making a concerted effort to engage with our teams."

Gaye Hirsch explained that The CW has yet to return to an in-person office environment and employees are still working entirely remotely. "I look forward to being back at the office," she said. "We're continuing the effort to make it a point to connect with people and make sure all the departments, from assistants to executives, be in Zoom meetings. Our President Mark Pedowitz makes sure to have a meeting with every department to make sure we're all connecting."

"We also have formal and informal mentorship programs, so people across departments can connect and understand each other's different aspects of our business," she added. "We're all on the same path to create great content."

Tiffany Jeung asked the inductees to share a piece of content that changed their perspective or mind about something in a meaningful way. The panelists shared their favorite podcasts, books, the impact of the musical Hamilton … and Allen recounted a conversation he had with Coretta Scott King.

What can leaders do to ensure all team members are feeling supported and have the resources that they need to succeed?

Kate Gonzalez of Univision asked the panelists, "What can leaders do to ensure all team members are feeling supported and have the resources that they need to succeed?"

"Every leader needs to think about what they need to be doing in their organization to ensure inclusion and belonging," Marla Kaplowitz of 4A's replied. "I will tell you that if we want to see true racial equity, then we have to promote talent into leadership, we need to promote people of color into leadership positions, we need diverse voices across all different types of differences." Kaplowitz went on to share that 4A's and 4A's Foundation launched Vanguard, a program designed to create a better career path for Black talent. "You have to be intentional about the changes that people need to make and supporting the unique needs of those individuals," she said.

What best practices are being utilized to create a brand that is authentic and welcoming to talent from diverse backgrounds?

Langston Peoples asked, "What best practices or tactics have you utilized to create a brand that is authentic and welcoming to talent from diverse backgrounds?"

Davis cited Citi's "True Name" initiative, which has made it the first bank to allow transgender and non-binary account holders the option to sign up for a credit card with their chosen name as opposed to being obligated to use their legal name. "By doing so, we are saying to people that we see you for who you are, your authentic self … That's something we've talked about internally, about bringing your full self to work," she explained.

"Our brand is very closely identified with our programming," Hirsch added. "I'm proud to say we've been a leader in diversity in front of and behind the camera. All our new upcoming shows were created or co-created by people of color and have one or more leads of color. We make sure also to include as many people of color in the hiring process."

GEN-Z TOWN HALL PANEL 2

The Hall of Honors Inductees included in the next panel were Yvette Moyo, Founder and CEO, MOBE; Dr. Gracie Lawson-Borders, Dean & Professor, Cathy Hughes School of Communications, Howard University, and Steve Pacheco, President & CEO, AAF.

The Gen-Z questioners were Carlos Mendez, Analyst, MediaLink; Alondra Carmona, Relationship Coordinator, MediaVillage; Xavier Conaway-Washington, Negotiator, National Video Investment at Zenith, and Maha Samad, Communication Assistant, OWN.

What can media marketing companies do to increase visibility and awareness towards underserved communities?

Carlos Mendez kicked off this panel discussion asking, "What can media marketing companies do to increase visibility and awareness towards underserved communities where people, especially younger students, might not know what marketing and advertising might entail for them, or how it could serve as a career?”

Yvette Moyo shared the importance of advertisers and marketers increasing their involvement with Black-owned and Brown-owned businesses in order to raise awareness, which Dr. Lawson-Borders agreed with, adding, "You have to look beyond the obvious and really take that opportunity. [I tell my students] 'take someone with you,' but not someone that looks like you. Don't go to the same place you went to a day ago.' Get out of your comfort zone."

What do you see as the biggest challenge for the next generation of diversity leaders?

Alondra Carmona asked the panel, "With Gen-Z set to lead this industry in the future, what do you see as the biggest challenge for the next generation of diversity leaders?"

"I would say, 'Look beyond the horizon,' meaning to not get caught up in the moment, in this moment," Dr. Lawson-Borders replied. "I believe in success planning, so I often give a talk to people who are interested in leadership about tapping someone, because someone came and tapped me and said, 'You need to try this. You need to do this.' So, I have a responsibility to pay that forward. We want to make sure that things are there for you to be prepared."

"I think the biggest challenge is to take the long view and to plan out the next three to five to seven years," Steve Pacheco said. "Especially through the COVID lockdown, we were all challenged to take the long view and not just think about the here and now. What trends might be coming up? What will the media landscape look like down the road?"

Has the push for diversity goals lost some steam since 2020?

Xavier Conaway-Washington posed the next question, highlighting many of the social justice movements that took place throughout 2020 and 2021, and the many promises that corporations made to raise awareness and provide support toward these issues. "Have you seen major leaps towards achieving those ideals, or has the push for those goals lost some steam since 2020?" he asked.

"2020 was a defining moment in American history and will go down as a case study and just practical learning of how to handle yourself through the crisis," Pacheco replied. "I believe that it shines a massive spotlight on issues that have been bubbling underneath the surface for a long, long time. At AAF, we spent a lot of time on and gave thoughtful consideration to [such questions as] 'Where do we go from here? How do we prepare for the next 2020 that may come?' because no one was quite prepared for everything that came our way. I do believe that the pressure is still there to do the right thing and to prop up the right programs and campaigns and efforts that helped counterattack a lot of the harm that was done in 2020."

"I think there's been a change in momentum, but not the results," Moyo added. "There've been no new CEOs or promotions in advertising among people of color. The industry doesn't get points for putting out a press release on how many businesses they're going to reinvigorate. They don't get a passing grade from me."

What advice would you give to someone in an entry level position who wants to advance their career?

Maha Samad of OWN asked the panel what advice they would give to an entry level employee who is looking to advance their career.

Dr. Lawson-Borders implored all the Gen-Z employees tuning into the conversation to reach out to all of the inductees through platforms like LinkedIn and to not be afraid of networking, and when doing so to "make sure that you are craft ready, that you know your business, that you take every opportunity for professional development."

"Be able to quickly and competently tell your story," Pacheco added. "Tell people why hiring you would be a good thing to do, how your diverse background would be an asset to them in their company and what you can bring to the table that others might not be able to -- and do it in your own voice."

GEN-Z TOWN HALL PANEL 3

The next panel of Inductees featured Simon Fenwick, Executive Vice President, Talent, Equity & Inclusion, 4A's Foundation; Christena Pyle, Chief Equity Officer, dentsu Americas, and Sherina Smith, Vice President, Head of Marketing, American Family Insurance.

Among the Gen-Z professionals in this group were Jocelyn Tenorio, Digital Media Coordinator, Casa Central; Connor Laurent, Analyst, Global Consumer Banking at Citi; Awa Badiane, a recent Lawrence University graduate with a BA in Government, and Mai Trinh, Brand and Industry Relationships Co-op at Comcast.

What kinds of practices have shown success and progress with retention of marketing professionals that identify as BIPOC?

Jocelyn Tenorio kicked things off, asking the panel, "What kinds of practices have shown success and progress with retention of marketing professionals that identify as BIPOC?”

Fenwick was the first to answer, sharing that Gen-Z and young Millennials make up 140 million people in the workforce, and Latinx make up 17.6 million of that group. “What I try to abide by from a retention perspective is to let them have a voice," he said. "For me as the leader it’s as much about me listening and learning as it is for them. If we want to retain staff, it's not just about money. It's about giving them a voice, giving them the opportunity to take risks."

Christena Pyle spoke on the importance of employee resource groups to make team members feel like they can build a network outside of their company. "It really helps with retention, especially in a world where we're a little bit more open, we're a little bit more hybrid, giving people a chance to get out and go to conferences and network beyond their company," she explained.

Is there an experience in life that made you feel a passion for diversity and pursue a career?

Connor Laurent asked the group, "Why is diversity so important to you and is there an experience in life that made you feel a passion for diversity and pursuing a career?"

"It's my lived experience," Sherina Smith revealed. "The impact it can have on our individual potential. A lack of diversity can damper and negatively impact society. It has the power to stunt our growth and rob our joy. I just think about the people around me who have grown up in non-diverse experiences. A number of smart and talented people aren't able to reach their full potential because of the inequities in society. We owe it to society to bring everything people can contribute."

What can recent graduates do to maximize their reach in order to get the attention of recruiters to land their first job post-grad?

Awa Badiane was next up and asked, "What can recent graduates do to maximize their reach in order to get the attention of recruiters to land their first job post-grad?"

Pyle shared words of inspiration. "Lean into your diversity," she advised. "Your difference makes you brilliant. In the past, people have hidden on LinkedIn that they're a diverse candidate. I think we should do the opposite now. What a beautiful time it is when we’re encouraged to do the opposite -- so show your difference, show your diversity and be proud of it."

Is there anything you'd have done differently early in your career?

Mai Trinh asked the panel, "Is there anything you'd have done differently early in your career, or wish you'd done after you graduated?"

"Two things stand out," Fenwick said, citing what he has learned. "Be patient! Don't expect to move through your career at a rapid speed. It takes time to learn. And as a gay man living with a disability, be authentic! Be proud of who you are and stand up for what you believe in."

"I was overly apologetic for being smart," Smith recalled. "A mindset shift would've made me bolder, let purpose guide my journey and not perfection."

Pyle was the last to share. "Right out of college, in my first job, I was overworked, underpaid and had no passion for my work," she admitted. "A terrible trifecta. Meanwhile, I had friends who had a work-life balance, had endless passion for what they were doing, but were low paid. Then you have the finance people who make a lot of money but worked long hours and hated their jobs. And I was over here with the whole trifecta. I would tell myself, 'You are far too talented to work at a job where all three of those things are a problem.'"

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