I've read nearly every article on diversity in the advertising industry, and nobody has pointed out an underlying problem that has always existed in the business: The advertising industry is an incestuous one; agencies overwhelmingly hire from each other.
Agencies mostly want to hire people who've worked in the business and, even better, on the right accounts. They need employees who understand the process, the language and how to get the work done. It's an insular industry. Even the recruiters or trainers we use work only for ad agencies or have worked in the business themselves. I've been on the 4A's HR committee for 15 years, as the chair the last few years, and have heard the same story from many global agencies.
This problem exists even in entry-level hiring. I recently participated in a college job fair, and the students I met lacked a basic awareness about advertising and relevant internships. Larger employers like the FBI, Macy's or ADP I'm sure had no expectation of relevant industry experience. It's not as much of a necessity as it is in advertising, where we have our own language, systems and even job titles.
When I recruited at a major defense contractor, we'd hire more than 20 entry-level employees in one day for a leadership-development program. Applicants with internships in retail would go in the "OK" pile, ones with engineering would go in the "good" pile, and defense contractor experience would go in the "great" pile. However, the company was huge, had many different positions and many diverse candidates because it had focused on diversity and inclusion for decades. Part of advertising's predicament is that we lack the volume of jobs found in other industries. Also, in the professional service industry (e.g., accountants, lawyers, ad execs) there are more practitioners and less support staff, an area where more outsiders might be viable job candidates.
Most steps being taken to diversity in the industry offer long-term solutions; it will take time before we fully reap the benefits. The 4As' Multicultural Advertising Internship Program (MAIP) is one example, with more than 2,400 interns having participated thus far.
It has proved to be an excellent recruiting source for us and other agencies. However, awareness of advertising jobs among the general public is low. For that reason, some young people don't consider advertising a career option. Everyone to some degree knows what a banker, computer programmer or insurance salesperson does. But an account supervisor, media planner/buyer or digital project manager -- those are a mystery to most.
The lack of diversity is a vicious cycle, too. Because there is little minority representation in the industry, the level of interest among minority students tends to be minimal. Add to that the low entry-level salaries, especially in New York, and it makes sourcing top entry-level talent challenging.
Of course, even if we are successful in recruiting diverse entry-level talent, how many of our total jobs are entry level? We often need people with five or 10 years of experience. It helps that the industry is starting to bring in more outsiders to fill digital roles that didn't exist in the past, such as digital-project manager, information architect and video-production manager. The 4A's has created a career website highlighting jobs in advertising to help attract more outsiders to the industry.
It will take many years to increase the talent pool of mid- and senior-level minority candidates. Other industries are way ahead of us. Our industry must look for strategies that will address our current reality, as well as solve the diversity problem for the future.