Advertising Week: The List announces diversity-focused mentorship program
Nearly everyone in the ad industry today would say that diversity, equity and inclusion is a business priority, even—or especially—during a global pandemic. But as we’ve seen recently, sometimes the distance between good intentions and tangible results is vast.
This is one of the main reasons The List—the advocacy group consisting of 30-odd marketing, advertising and media leaders assembled by Ad Age in partnership with Facebook—decided to help confront unconscious bias by directly taking on the diverse talent crisis in the industry.
When the 2020 edition of The List had their first meeting, in February, they discussed everything from environmental concerns and sustainability to tribalism and mental health. Ultimately—and unanimously—the group settled on an issue that unbeknownst to them would become even more pressing in the months to follow, as COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the country’s physical, psychological and economic health and the rise of social justice protests against police violence brought about a long overdue reckoning on systemic racism.
Advertising Week 2020 and beyond
With such a fraught cultural climate as the backdrop, The List recently announced that it was launching a mentorship program focusing on helping mid-career BIPOC advertising and marketing professionals of color (as well as other underrepresented minority groups such as LGBTQ+) build a support network and address the specific challenges they face. List 2020 members Lauren Franklin, founder and president of Summerjax; Walter Frye, VP of global brand engagement at American Express; and Stacy Taffet, VP of marketing for PepsiCo's water portfolio, followed up the announcement by appearing on a panel during Advertising Week in The Female Quotient’s Virtual Equality Lounge to further amplify the group’s mission and mentorship program.
Ad Age Studio 30 Editor John Dioso moderated the panel, “Creating Opportunities for Diverse Talent to Advance.” Click on the video below to watch the conversation.
Since its inaugural meeting earlier this year, pre-COVID lockdown, The List has held that although companies have been enacting diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives for years, biases—conscious and unconscious—continue to prevent many from advancing to the levels they deserve, and so these talented professionals end up dropping out of the industry. The resulting lack of diverse representation in leadership creates a negative feedback loop that perpetuates the status quo.
“Often, we have these DEI programs and we expect them to be a cure-all that will create a utopian work environment,” explained Frye. “But we’ll never have that equality without addressing the systematic injustices and inequalities that exist in our society.”
To that end, The List’s mentorship program will be designed to leverage the group’s collective industry and leadership experience to help advance underrepresented professionals who are three to five years into their career to leadership levels.
The issue that prevents BIPOC professionals from advancing in their careers lies in the talent pipeline, but the problem isn’t caused by a lack of talent, Frye argued. It’s in the pipeline itself.
Unconscious biases, unequal opportunities for advancement, a lack of diverse representation in leadership at all levels and non-inclusive workplace cultures all contribute to the talent crisis the industry faces.
The female quotient
As a woman, Taffet recognized this lack of diverse representation early in her career. “You see a lot of women in marketing, advertising and media at junior and mid-management levels, but it really tails off as you get more senior,” she explained.
“It’s a vicious cycle we need to break,” Tafet continued. “When you have a leadership team that’s predominantly white and male, it’s hard to empathize and understand what it takes for someone who is different from you to be successful—but that’s what we need.”
Franklin’s company, Summerjax, is female-owned and -operated, but that wasn’t necessarily by design. “It’s the culture we created,” Franklin explained. “It’s an environment where people feel like they’ll fit in and be safe and supported while they learn and grow.”
Understanding multifaceted privilege
In addition to practicing empathy and creating inclusive workplace cultures, there’s a certain level of self-evaluation that needs to occur to truly get to the heart of the problem, and part of that means recognizing our own privileges.
“As a black and a gay man, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what privileges I have, because I was constantly working to overcome some of the barriers that come with those labels,” explained Frye. “One thing that I learned this summer [though] as we think about what transpired following George Floyd’s murder, is that I have to confront my own privilege. I still have male privilege. I still have able-body privilege. I still have cis-gender privilege,” he continued.
It’s critical for leadership to realize that all privileges come with responsibility. “It’s about being vulnerable enough to look at ourselves,” said Franklin.
Through its mentorship program—currently in its pilot phase—The List will work “to create those equal footings and opportunities so that everybody’s on the same level and has the same ability to advance in their career,” explained Frye. "We all have roles to be allies and to advance equality.”
Uncomfortable Conversations and Women to Watch
List members Krystle Watler, managing director of the Americas at Virtue Worldwide, and Lauren Wesley Wilson, founder and CEO of ColorComm Media Group, have also been advocating for the urgent need for diversity and representation in the ad industry, reinforcing the central mission and promise of the mentorship program. Watler spoke to Ad Age’s Lindsay Rittenhouse for the most recent edition of the “Uncomfortable Conversations” series about the importance of more BIPOC and underrepresented people having “seats at the table.”
“I never, ever imagined running an agency,” Watler said. “I never saw a BIPOC running an agency. There were no examples of senior people of color in business development. I was over being at holding company agencies, just because of the bureaucracy. I can only hope that more and more BIPOC talent, seeing us, will open up and expand on what is possible for their careers. Even for non-BIPOC talent, [it is about] is more than just ethnicity, [it’s] about working-class, disabled people. There’s such a large percentage of ‘other’ that we represent. The more people see us, the more we can challenge what’s possible.
In a panel discussion at Ad Age’s Women to Watch Conference on “Advocating in Advertising” in September, Wilson pointed out, “What I always get frustrated by is [the excuse] ‘We don’t know where to find people.’ These are conversations that we’ve been having for so long about representation, about hiring in the C-suite, about hiring in the creative level. These conversations are so repetitive that you wonder, ‘What is the solution? How can we get there?’ And I know that it sounds simple, but you just have to do it.
“Oftentimes people wonder, ‘What’s the case for diversity? Is diversity going to lead to increased revenue?’ I would say so, because it will cut back on time. It will result in a better product. And also you will stop being behind the 8-ball. We need to be proactive. What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done. It needs to be measured, and it needs to be tracked. There needs to be a plan in place, and there needs to be an investment. It’s not something that can happen overnight. It’s something that needs to be thought out and worked towards.”
In the coming weeks, check the group's vertical on AdAge.com and website AdAgeTheList.com, and follow The List on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, for more news about progress of The List's mentorship program. Email [email protected] for more information.