"Despite expressed intentions to reform, the [ad] industry's past record cast doubt upon its willingness and ability to police itself. Spokesmen testified that ... the industry and individual companies might be trusted to make the necessary changes without governmental intervention. But critics contended that the industry has forfeited the confidence of the minority communities, and that government agencies must step in."
So wrote the New York City Commission on Human Rights in 1978. (Download 1978 document at left.)
Why do we -- along with 93% of those responding to our poll -- get the feeling we'll be reading something similar in another 30 years? There is something surreally Orwellian about this affair. A government agency loudly demands that an entire industry reform. The industry, on the other hand, makes public promises to meet the demands (partly in the hope it all blows over), while ignoring the realistic goals it could conceivably achieve.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Both sides need to get real. The commission needs to cease grandstanding attempts to embarrass the industry into action. It also needs to acknowledge the fact that in a supply-demand market, qualified and interested minority applicants can get a lot more out of their degrees in other sectors. And it should realize that asking the industry to lower its standards -- something only a government agency would suggest -- is downright insulting to all parties.
For its part, the industry should be a little less defensive and a great deal more proactive. Poaching qualified minority applicants already in the system doesn't boost numbers. And time spent whining that there aren't enough black kids at VCU Adcenter or the University of Texas would be better spent looking for undergraduates in other programs. Training and mentoring would help. As would breaking up the good ol' boy vibe prevalent in many agencies.
Time for action
Action, as always, speaks louder than words. This isn't an issue that will go away by decree. But maybe expecting common sense at the intersection of Madison and Town Hall is a bit naive on our part.
~ ~ ~
CLARIFICATION: Our editorial "The Ad Industry Diversity Hiring Controversy" was intended to convey that the laudable -- and indeed necessary -- goal of increasing agency diversity cannot be accomplished by agencies inking agreements that have unrealistic or unachievable hiring goals forced by political grandstanding. The line that the Human Rights Commission is "asking the industry to lower its standards" has been misread by some to have an alternative meaning. In actuality, it was meant to indicate that if agencies -- to satisfy the HRC or any other governmental body -- hire candidates based on ethnicity alone rather than suitability for the post at hand, it does a disservice to all parties.