Human Rights Investigator Reprimands Ad Industry

Suggests Need for 'Some Kind of Oversight' on Diversity Hiring Practices

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The head of New York City's Human Rights Commission both praised and reprimanded the advertising industry in a public forum yesterday morning.

Patricia Gatling, who is leading the investigation into minority hiring practices on Madison Avenue, praised the industry for being "extremely open" to talking about ways to improve minority hiring. About the possibility of reaching an agreement, she said, "We're closer than we were one year ago," adding that, "I don't think the industry is opposed to some kind of oversight." But she also took issue with agencies' explanation for the low numbers of minority employees. "Their reply is 'I can't find anyone.' Well, for 40 years, you should have been able to find someone."

Ms. Gatling made her comments during a presentation on the preliminary budget hearings for fiscal 2007 before the City Council's Committee on Civil Rights, which oversees the Commission. Larry Seabrook, chair of the committee, led the hearings.

Long history
The latter comment referenced an analysis completed in June 1978 by the Commission on Human Rights that found only 5% of the industry's workforce in 1967 comprised black and Hispanic workers, at a time when the metropolitan-area labor force was about 25% minority. The report also said that agencies "in the New York area had consistently failed to employ blacks, Puerto Ricans and other minority groups overall, and especially in professional and executive positions."

Numerous agencies at the time expressed concern over the situation revealed by their employment statistics, and volunteered to establish in-house affirmative action programs to increase minority representation of their workforces, according to the report. However, subsequent follow-up by the Commission revealed only meager results, so that by 1973, the Commission took enforcement action. Three agencies eventually signed conciliation agreements, which resulted in the agencies implementing commission-approved procedures intended to produce a positive change in hiring.

During an interview with Advertising Age after the hearings, Ms. Gatling refused to provide numbers on agencies' current minority employment, due to the ongoing investigation.

But she did offer advice of sorts to the ad industry, in relaying her own experience in creating more diverse workforces. Years ago, as First Assistant District Attorney in Kings County, Brooklyn, Ms. Gatling led a program designed to both increase the number of minority applicants and improve retention levels. To build a pool of candidates, she traveled all over the country and interviewed thousands of people, spending more than $100,000 in the process. "I had to determine what was out there. Sometimes you find candidates in unlikely places."

And that, she said, is "the exact same way to do it with the advertising industry."

Holding on to talent
Finding and hiring minorities is only the first part of the process required to diversify a workforce, Ms. Gatling said. It also requires implementing mentoring programs to help retain candidates while they're employed. "If you see people who look like you in places of power," she said, "you think it can happen. I know the ad agencies don't have [those programs]." A final crucial component is getting support from the top of the organization.

"The DA told me he wanted half of the office to be people of color," she recalled. When she began, the DA's workforce had less than 10% people of color as assistants, and when she left, she'd reached the goal, she said.

Even as talks between her office and ad agencies' attorneys continue, both the Commissioner and Councilman Seabrook made clear their intention to move forward with plans to hold public hearings on the matter at the end of April.

Ms. Gatling said during her presentation before Councilman Seabrook that she wants to press on a couple of issues. One is the question of where agencies have looked to find candidates; another is whether the jobs posted are "real" opportunities. "These people are paid billions of dollars a year by companies like Time Warner and Coca-Cola that pride themselves on diversity. I would like to see them explain to their clients why they are not diverse."

"The only way to deal with this issue of discrimination is to confront it head on," said Councilman Seabrook. "Ad agencies shouldn't be talking about not having hearings. That's not the American way."

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