Why Diversity and Inclusion Happened for Us Organically: Renee Hill Young

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Each year, my agency Quigley-Simpson releases a Citizenship Report that details our commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as well as other promises we make to be and remain good corporate citizens both in our community and in the world. We recently released this year's report and I'm proud to say that of our 204 employees, 58% of them are women and 44% identify as non-white. In addition, 50% of our leadership team are women. 

I must admit that we started doing the Citizenship Report because one of our clients required it of all their suppliers and I'm so glad they did. Our staff is a bona fide reflection of the diverse communities from which they come. This is not just something that we as a company are proud of -- it has become one of our greatest strengths. Examining our numbers and our commitments now on a regular basis reminds us that DE&I isn't just a checklist. It's an ongoing reinforcement and commitment that should evolve and change along with our agency's ongoing development and contribute to positive changes in the world around us.

When my business partner Gerald Bagg and I started Quigley-Simpson nearly 19 years ago, we never really considered diversity and inclusion to be an issue. We just wanted to hire the best and most competent people for the job. We felt that if we found the right people, provided them with the tools they needed, and created a collaborative and nurturing environment to thrive in, our business would succeed. This proved to be a winning formula for us. It was only later on, when we noticed how many other agencies were struggling to achieve diversity, that we realized that what we had actually created was something very special through natural and organic evolution.

An important part of that evolution has been having a leadership team that is reflective of the diversity within the company and the community. Currently, our two co-presidents are a woman and a Black man, our Chief Financial Officer is a Black woman, and our Executive Creative Director is also a woman. None of this was intentional. We just looked for the best people to fill these positions. The advertising industry has struggled with diversity, and we know what we have is rare. Having such a diverse senior leadership team makes a huge difference. It's an internal and external acknowledgement that resonates with our employees and attracts new talent as well.

Where DE&I efforts often go sideways for agencies is in the hiring process. Anyone who has ever hired an employee knows that one of the most important variables is finding people who "fit in" at the agency. We spend a lot of time with our co-workers, and it is definitely fair to want to seek and find team members who are interesting and compatible. But the concept of finding someone who is a good "cultural fit" for the team can often turn into finding someone who looks and acts exactly like all the other members of the team. That sameness can often prevent diversity in action and in thought. And, as a consequence, it can be constricting and limiting.

Unconscious bias often plays a huge role in the hiring process. Whether they realize it or not, people are usually looking to hire someone with whom they feel comfortable, and they often start with those who have similar educational backgrounds and work experiences (not to mention people that already have a connection to the agency through clients or employees). Unfortunately, this can perpetuate the biases and unconscious racism that has been baked in for years, keep well-qualified candidates from even getting interviews, and prevent many agencies from becoming diverse.

Having the right people in HR roles is a vital key to breaking out of the cycle. HR people committed to DE&I can help in the recruitment phase by finding candidates with diverse backgrounds who can ultimately add compelling points of view and contribute a wider range of experience and expertise. HR can also help create a hiring process that doesn't set up people from different backgrounds to fail either by having requirements for the role that are predetermined to be exclusionary or asking questions that eliminate candidates unwittingly.

In recent months, with the help of our HR experts, Quigley-Simpson has hired nine new employees, seven of whom identify as non-white. I'm especially proud of this because as we continue to grow, we continue with our philosophy that has made our agency reflective of the world in which we live. Moreover, in hiring the right people for the right jobs, we have created a culture of acceptance, tolerance and collaboration for them in which to thrive. When they thrive, the agency as a whole grows and prospers.

Renee Hill Young (pictured at top) is Co-Founder of Quigley-Simpson,the largest WBENC-certified, woman-owned agency in the country. 

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