Ad Age is marking Black History Month 2023 with our third-annual Honoring Creative Excellence package. (Read the introduction here.) Today, our guest editor JinJa Birkenbeuel turns the spotlight to Kara Wright, a veteran strategist, facilitator and trainer who serves as managing director of Envisioning Equity, an organization that helps companies create equitable, diverse and inclusive workplaces.
Here, Wright shares her thoughts on examining the creative journey from beginning to end through an equity lens.
Equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace have always mattered, but in the year 2020, our business was greatly impacted. Like so many others, we were overwhelmed by the number of inquiries we received amid the ongoing racial injustice and an unforeseen global pandemic.
This was not surprising, but something had shifted, and we were presented with a number of opportunities that would require us to think and work differently. We were speaking with creative agencies, communication executives and creative teams within global organizations that needed something beyond traditional DEI education. We quickly understood that the work of creatives not only plays an important role in ensuring brands remain impactful and relevant with their audiences, it also has the power to shape the perceptions of those being serviced or to illuminate the biases—conscious or unconscious—of those creating. It’s imperative that their work reflect the audiences they communicate with and incorporate diverse perspectives through each stage of the creative process.
How could what we do support this process? What conversations needed to be had? How could we deliver a set of tools that would support teams to help ensure they were creating work that is culturally relevant and respectful to their audiences?
This request was different from what I was accustomed to. I needed to ensure we remained focused on our existing capabilities (consulting/training through an organization development-and-change management lens), especially with the amount of work we were taking on. But I also saw these conversations as opportunities to expand our business and develop new and compelling work that had the potential to create a huge impact within our client environments and across communities.
We designed and launched comprehensive and customizable education grounded by inquiry in areas including Culture and Belonging, Leadership Practices, Services and Product Development EDI Practices, and Marketing and Branding EDI Practices. The result was to examine the creative journey from beginning to end through an equity lens. The core components include EDI Principles, Research, Strategy, Briefing, Ideation, Creative Development and Post-Production. This training was developed specifically to examine history, provide context and examine how images and storytelling can be effective when many diverse, equitable and inclusive perspectives are included.
This program has been delivered throughout organizations that serve more than 160 countries, making this a pivotal project. I was challenged and stretched and learned so much working with my internal partners and clients.
This is humbling work. Every creative choice made has the power to shape identity and make a positive contribution to the media landscape.
In our culture, the power and impact of advertising go well beyond simply selling products and impacting consumer behavior. It’s much deeper. As a highly resourced and high-reach medium, advertising not only has the power to shape the way people interact with brands, but it also shapes perceptions and ideas—about how people think about the world and the people in it—and can support and contribute to raising our consciousness around the questions of equity and justice.