Let's Stop Talking About Diversity -- Let's Start Taking Action

The Ad Industry Needs to Invest in Diversity Programs -- Like Apple and TMCF

Diversity has been a hot topic of late. Yet, in reality it's more like a "hot potato."

On the heels of the controversial Academy Awards ceremony where #OscarsSoWhite was doing much more than just trending, diversity was also grabbing plenty of headlines at last month's 4A's conference.

WPP CEO Martin Sorrell acknowledged that "there is a problem" in the industry regarding race, ethnicity and gender. Indeed, executives across the board all talked about the lack of women and multicultural talent in the advertising industry. However, that's the issue. It's still just talk.

Today, over one-third of the U.S. population is multicultural, with approximately 17% Hispanic, 13% African-American and 6% Asian-American. By 2020, it's estimated that over half of all millennials will be multicultural.

Despite these numbers, the lack of multicultural talent seems to be a perennial challenge for many industries -- and particularly so for the advertising industry. As John Oliver would ask, "How is this still a thing"?

We have all heard about the issues. Not enough diversity in executive leadership. The difficulty in finding talent. Yet the biggest issue, like many things in life, might come down to money. When it comes to recent graduates looking for their first job, money is of course an issue -- and it's an issue that affects everyone. However, for Blacks and Latinos in particular, the combination of a low starting salary and the high cost of living in cities like New York make getting that first job in advertising a non-starter. Many multicultural recent grads literally can't afford to take a job in advertising.

So instead of talk, let's focus on action. And action is what the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) is all about. TMCF is named for the U.S. Supreme Court's first African-American justice, Thurgood Marshall. Founded in 1987, the TMCF is the only national organization that supports all Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) with member schools including 47 publicly supported HBCUs representing nearly 300,000 students. For those not familiar, there are 101 HBCUs across the country -- 47 of them are publicly supported, such as Florida A&M University and Howard University. Collectively, HBCUs graduate nearly 20% of African-Americans who earn undergraduate degrees.

Acknowledging the diversity challenges in the technology industry, TMCF recently partnered with Apple to take action. Apple committed over $40 million to the TMCF to create a database of computer science majors at HBCUs, prepare both students and faculty with the knowledge of what it will take to be successful in the tech industry, and offer scholarships for very talented, but financially-strapped young people.

Apple also created a paid internship program for particularly promising students. TMCF and Apple realized that it wasn't enough to keep talking about solving their diversity challenges; they needed to invest in solutions to remove barriers for these students. The results, in less than one year, are compelling: Apple added 33 diverse and incredibly competitive (top 5%) students to its workforce.

It's time for the advertising, entertainment and media industries to step up with a multi-million dollar commitment the way Apple did if we are serious about solving the diversity problem. TMCF can guarantee it will marshal the collective resources of the country's HBCUs to deliver a comprehensive solution that will include a highly selective talent acquisition strategy to ensure these same conversations are not occurring at next year's 4A's conference.

Let's make 2016 the year that we stop treating "the diversity issue" like a hot potato. Let's stop talking about the issues. Let's take action to fix them.

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