The Future of Diversity: Honoring D&I Change-Agents at CES

By Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors Archives
Cover image for  article: The Future of Diversity: Honoring D&I Change-Agents at CES

Stories have been an intrinsic part of the Las Vegas Valley, heralding back to Native American traditions some 10,000 years ago. On January 8, 2020, we tapped into the same spirit of human connection to unravel the current discourse on diversity, equality, and belonging — specifically in the advertising, marketing, and media industry. In many ways, the story is complex, but the statistics showing a major diversity problem are strikingly clear: The industry's diversity retention rate for the first five years of employment is under 25 percent, versus an all-industry standard of 40 percent.

Determined to set a path forward that will move more of those in the industry from advocacy to activism, MediaVillage and AdvancingDiversity.org brought together nearly 400 brand, agency, and media leaders at the Las Vegas Park MGM during the planet's biggest and most audacious technology showcase, CES 2020. The day's events included the inaugural Advancing Diversity Council meeting, the Advancing a Diverse Workforce MeetUp, and the third annual Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors Induction Experience, which celebrated eight of the industry's most influential leaders in diversity, equality, and inclusion initiatives and accelerating the pace of corporate cultural change. (See full honoree list below.)

The Induction Experience was grounded in storytelling — one of the most powerful means for leaders to influence, teach, and inspire. Led by the Sundance Institute Theatre Program, guests and honorees at the Hall of Honors' Creative Tensions experience took on the role of storytellers, giving each point of view, personal narrative, and raw emotion an open platform for unadulterated self-expression. The provocative prompts during the immersive experience evoked heartfelt personal sharing by guests and honorees as they moved across the room based on their views along a continuum of competing leadership scenarios; for instance, standing to the left, right, or center based on whether they believe in using more "love" or more "fight" to drive real change.

"We've always known stories are a powerful medium to forge connections among people," Christopher Hibma, director at the Sundance Institute and the architect of its Creative Tensions program, said after the event, "but tonight we allowed guests to experience it in a very visceral way."

The 2020 Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors inductees represent multiple industries, including advertising and media, CPG, entertainment, nonprofit, and retail:

Tiffany R. Warren, founder and president, ADCOLOR, and senior vice president, chief diversity officer, Omnicom Group

Jill Baskin, chief marketing officer, The Hershey Company

J. Michael Haynie, Ph.D., vice chancellor, strategic initiatives and innovation, Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Syracuse University

Shelley Zalis, chief executive officer, The Female Quotient

Sue Obeidi, director, Hollywood Bureau, Muslim Public Affairs Council

Tim Jones, chief executive officer, Publicis Media Americas

Tony Rogers, senior vice president and chief member officer, Sam's Club

Tim McNeal, vice president, talent development and inclusion, Walt Disney Television

As honorees and guests shared their take-aways and aha moments, three key themes emerged in terms of "what's next?" and the specific action steps to support it:

Enabling Inclusive Attitudes

Often not explicitly visible or quantifiable, attitude is infectious and powerful. Speaking with inductee McNeal, it was evident that the drive for creativity at Disney is an essential part of its cultural DNA and influences how new ideas, thoughts, and concepts are embraced. Many guests at the Hall of Honors event spoke about "diversity being more than skin deep" and that following the event, they were going to be much more astute about curating and embracing diversity of thought.

This openness to new ideas has manifested itself in the growth of important employee resource groups (ERGs) at Charter, Disney, NBCU, WarnerMedia, and many other organizations in attendance. The question of how to integrate ERGs and ensure both differences and commonalities are celebrated was also on the minds of many guests. Inductee Obeidi pointed out that it is not enough to create these groups; we need to make them living organisms that learn from and challenge each other.

Meaningful Structural Changes

Structure influences strategy and vice versa. Structure dictates if, when, and how change will happen. Jones spoke about Publicis Media's commitment to improving hiring processes for differently-abled talent. He highlighted how a partnership with Autism Speaks has enabled the agency to "create mentorship platforms, learning programs, and management rotation programs that tap into each individual's unique skills."

One of the guests, the chief people officer at a leading global agency, spoke about improving inclusion by discarding old definitions of paid time off and restructuring the definition of a flexible workweek to an environment where each employee makes autonomous decisions on how to balance their personal and professional lives with no organizational straitjacket of allowable and trackable time.

Behavioral Transformation

A third and important area of feedback was focused on how behavior might change following the event. As with any event, there is always the post-party afterglow, and then, once you hit the humdrum of day-to-day, everything goes from the technicolor of possibilities to the greyscale of circumstance. One important idea that guests discussed to counter this was how to incorporate incentives in annual performance goals that promote diversity. These might include offering incentives on hiring, retention, and development of diverse talent; selecting a diverse slate of vendors; and adopting multicultural strategies that drive performance.

From a growth perspective, it is critical that companies incorporate the same rigor to diversity metrics as they do to sales revenue and profitability metrics. These metrics become even more important when riskier and bolder moves are made towards equality. According to honoree Zalis, metrics ensure a laser-focus on the critical end goals that are correlated to more equal outcomes.

To facilitate this ongoing change, the Advancing Diversity Council discussed a five-point plan for advancing diversity from advocacy to activism focused on research, education, communications, mentoring, and financial solutions. The Council will announce definitive activation opportunities in each area of the coming weeks.

"There's still more talk than action when it comes to diversity, inclusion, and equality, and it's important to highlight the successful and scalable diversity initiatives. The Advancing Diversity Council brings together our community's most successful diversity activists to move the industry forward," said Jack Myers, founder of MediaVillage and AdvancingDiversity.org.

In the words of a female college student who attended the event as part of the Advancing a Diverse Workforce MeetUp program: "I feel optimistic as I watch these inspirational role models courageously blaze these new trails for me and my generation."

The electric momentum of the event, buoyed by both the courageous leadership of the senior executives who were honored and the energy and positivity of the young minds representing the next generation, are precisely what we need to solve one of society's greatest ills: insidious and pervasive inequality. Certainly, being at CES reminded us all about the potency of technology in addressing this challenge — but perhaps, as the evening unveiled, the most essential element of all is our very own humanity and our willingness to courageously make change happen.

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