The first year of the third decade of the 21st century has felt like a decade unto itself. When the 2020 edition of The List, the industry advocacy group consisting of 30-odd marketing, advertising and media leaders assembled by Ad Age in partnership with Facebook, had its inaugural meeting way back on February 7, the members decided unanimously that their mission would be to confront unconscious bias by taking on the diverse talent crisis in the industry.
Few if any of The List members at that first gathering could have foreseen the turmoil that was to come: The coronavirus had only begun to spread around the world, and the universal disruption to the economy and daily life would have seemed like the feverishly overwritten plot of a dystopian sci-fi movie. Just as troubling was a creeping sense of authoritarianism in response to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and social justice protests in the wake of police killings of innocent Black Americans. Add in the most contentious, polarizing and, frankly, insane presidential election in our lifetimes, and no one would have faulted The List if they had just packed it in for the year.
Nevertheless, The List persisted. After a brief respite while the country adjusted to sheltering in place and conducting business from home (where possible), The List reconvened in June. The extreme challenges brought on by the COVID pandemic, the resulting economic recession and the renewed call for racial justice—and diversity, equity and inclusion in the ad industry—steeled members' resolve to effect change. Black Lives Matter brought particular focus on the lack of representation of BIPOC in the industry ranks and especially in executive positions.
"People are scared," List member Jeron Smith, co-founder and CEO of Unanimous Media, remarked during one of the group's Zoom calls. "They're thinking about how they're going to make it through the day or the month or the year. But the crisis has also birthed new biases—or exacerbated biases that were there before. We have a platform to expand what we think about as unconscious bias and how that is affecting people in the workplace and shine a light on what people are going through.”