Why Typical Agency Diversity Initiatives Hinder Performance

By WomenAdvancing Archives
Cover image for  article: Why Typical Agency Diversity Initiatives Hinder Performance

The media industry was shocked (shocked!) by the recent revelations of high-level perpetuation of age-old gender bias involving Roger Ailes, Kevin Roberts and Gustavo Martinez. Press releases were issued. Columns were written.  Resignations were tendered. And yet, what will change? Nothing. We cannot continue to pursue the exact same diversity initiatives and expect different results. This insanity keeps the ad business stuck in the '60s.  It's time for agencies to reframe the tired diversity conversation and take real action to move beyond bias.

Pam Teagarden, a diversity and performance expert and my partner at Beyond Bias, offers three forward steps the media and advertising industries must take to create progress now:

Step 1:  Admit that Gender is Not Just Sex. It's in All of Us.

Typical diversity initiatives are primarily focused on gender as sex. But the issue is bigger than male vs. female. In today's world, sex roles are fluid: women can be breadwinners, men can be caretakers, people can marry anyone they want, use any bathroom and choose any gender identity.  It's time to drop the antiquated male/female archetypes and shift the emphasis from the comparison to thecomplement.

Agency culture forces women into the business norms created by men, for men.  ("Women don't have vertical ambition!") Feminine traits -- nurturing, thoughtful decision-making and empathetic listening -- are leadership qualities, too.  Our business needs to value femininity as a strategic check-and-balance to traditional masculine leadership. The feminine complements the masculine for a greater whole.

Teagarden advises that agencies develop and sustain integrated male/female leadership attitudes and behaviors within every team member. Doing so has proven to increase performance and pave the way for greater diversity.

Step 2: Forget "Lean In." We Need to "Lean On"Each Other.

Typical agency diversity initiatives idealize expectations and outcomes. While agencies are attempting to make it easier for women to "lean in," it's still difficult for a lot of women to get their needs met at work. Men aren't necessarily feeling the love, either. Agency business is more demanding than ever. As pressures mount, the goal of solving for diversity without considering agency performance stalls progress.  

So how do we create an environment where both genders are encouraged ­to "lean on" each other for better engagement, bigger ideas and greater well-being? Beyond Bias has a protocol of nine interrelated factors that underpin fairness for everybody. And the best part is, by enhancing these factors, performance is measurably increased across teams.

Step 3: Recognize that Diversity for the Sake of Diversity Does Not Meet the Agency's Business Goals.

Simply hiring more women and minorities may solve how a team looks, but it won't solve how it performs.  Attempts to achieve diversity without considering performance creates increasingly deeper divides.

In the agency business, where our product is our ideas, human performance is the only competitive edge.  We must stop framing the diversity problem as a gender or race issue, and instead frame it an optimization challenge. Only then can we create a comprehensive solution that will leverage excellent results for everyone: Men and women; agencies and clients.

After all, achieving diversity won't matter if it doesn't improve our ideas, enhance our working relationships and increase our business results -- for agencies and for clients.

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