Being Late on Diversity Is Unacceptable

Mentors and Sponsors Needed to Step Up

By Published on .

Talent has no color.

Tiffany Warren Tiffany R. Warren
This is what I was told on my first day as an Inroads Intern for Verizon in 1992. Reverend Mr. Murray, a stern but compassionate minister and INROADS Director, said that as a diverse professional you'll be given so many opportunities to enter the corridors of power and prestige and in order to "remain" you must be talented first. Simple, right? He also said "To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, to be late is unacceptable." I added on much later when I started working in advertising, "To stay late is acceptable!" Well, his advice took on much more meaning as I began my career in diversity management in advertising eight years ago and it continues to inspire me until this day.

I think what Mr. Murray knew was that quotas and diversity programs like INROADS help spur action, but may not help sustain diversity over the long term. He knew that diversity programs may not be considered worthy by some because it appears to benefit the few and not the many. Diversity "feeder" programs such as Inroads, 4A's MAIP, Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, AAF's Most Promising Minority Students Program and the TORCH Program have not only produced stunningly successful results but their alumni have gone on to make significant contributions to their respective industries.

But these programs are just seeds, and if they are planted in an environment where they cannot be sustained they simply will not grow.

What sustains the growth and success of diversity programs? Mentoring and sponsorship. Peer mentoring, reverse mentoring, one-to-one mentoring, group mentoring and alumni mentoring/volunteering have all been cited as the main reasons for the success of these programs. To take it a step further, sponsorship guarantees success.

A mentor is someone who can open the door to opportunities but a sponsor is someone who can get you a seat at the table. If you currently work at an advertising agency, create an opportunity to mentor or sponsor a junior or mid-level professional of color.

Although talent or success has no color assigned to it, our society is not colorblind.

The advertising industry has been given multiple opportunities to "be early" in creating diverse environments and opportunities for professionals of color to succeed. I believe that the industry is now "on time."

And, in the words of Mr. Murray, "being late" is unacceptable.
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