Agencies Chase Rainbow, but Diversity Progress Still Cloudy

Most Firms Meet Minority Hiring Targets; Some Question Whether Targets Are High Enough

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The good news for many of the agencies that came under the gaze of the New York City Commission on Human Rights is that they met their goals for minority hiring in 2007. The bad news is critics are likely to be unimpressed.
Carol Watson, president of Tangerine-Watson
Carol Watson, president of Tangerine-Watson

For one, the goals were set by the agencies themselves. Second, some of them -- most notably a handful of Omnicom shops -- failed to meet even those goals. But perhaps more important, a closer look at the numbers shows African-Americans and Hispanics lag behind Asian-Americans and that agencies seem to lose minority hires as fast as they hire them. Following a two-year investigation by the CCHR, 15 advertising agencies in 2007 pledged to meet goals for minority hiring, presented as a percentage of total hires for the year. The goals will be monitored for three years, and agencies that don't meet them will be subject to penalties.

The results are largely positive. On average, the 15 agencies set a goal of hiring 18% minorities and hired 25% minorities, according to the CCHR.

African-American focus
But it's no secret that it was a specific lack of African-Americans in the agency world that drove the investigation. And a closer look at the numbers shows that of the total new minority hires, only about 30% were African-American. (This is based on the 13 agencies who reported minority breakdowns. Absent from that list were Havas' Euro RSCG and Arnold.)

Of Ogilvy's new minority hires, for instance, 46 were African-Americans and 107 were "other minorities." At DraftFCB, 14% were Asian or Asian-American, 7% were Hispanic and 10% were African-American. According to 2006 U.S. Census figures the U.S. population is 4.4% Asian, 12.8% Black and 14.8% Hispanic.

"The numbers need to be pulled apart," Carol Watson, president of Tangerine-Watson and a blogger for AdAge.com's Big Tent blog, said, "because agencies weren't required to, to show they improved the problem they were given in the first place" -- the lack of African-Americans.

Sanford Moore, the former BBDO adman who pressed for the latest CCHR probe into the advertising business, said he remains concerned about the results. "What Madison Avenue is doing is creating minorities of choice," Mr. Moore said. "In this structure, blacks fall at the bottom. Whereas they talk about diversity, this is really a ploy for the continued marginalization and exclusion of African-Americans on Madison Avenue."

Also troubling aspect was what seemed to be a revolving door.
Source: New York City Commission on Human Rights. Arnold and Euro did not break down management and professional hires.
"Agencies consistently feel they are able to get people in the early stage but they don't stay," said Ms. Watson. "Part of it has to do with not having a sense of support and community and being the only one."

Indeed, some agencies in the CCHR report lost numbers of minority employees at the same pace they were gaining new ones.

But progress is progress and some are pointing out that regardless of who set the goals they were met -- and in many cases exceeded -- in the first year shouldn't be overlooked. Cliff Mulqueen, deputy director of the CCHR, said he is optimistic about the progress the agencies are marking.

"This is going to take a while," he said. "We didn't expect in the first year that the whole industry was going to be diverse."

Of the agencies included in the CCHR report, four are Omnicom-owned, four WPP Group owned-agencies, three Interpublic Group of Cos.-owned, and two each owned by Publicis Groupe and Havas.

Unmet pledges
Only five agencies did not meet at least one of their hiring goals, including four Omnicom shops.

This despite the fact that Omnicom has made an agreement with the New York City Council to spend more than $2 million to encourage to diversity, in addition to hiring diversity advisors, law firm Davis Wright Tremaine.

"Clearly the company isn't pleased that it missed its numbers," said Weldon Latham, one of the attorneys advising the holding company. "But Omnicom doesn't want to hire for numbers' sake. It's more important for us to create an environment that will accept [minorities] and help them to flourish. We want to make sure we are hiring the right people and, after we hire them, that we retain them."
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