A recent study by Deloitte for Facebook on barriers to representation in advertising begins with statements about the influence advertising has on a variety of positive societal outcomes including “how we see ourselves and others.” By paragraph two, it describes the industry push to diversify as a “trend” and an “awakening.”
I am instantly reminded that by “industry,” the study really means those agencies who have historically been referred to as general market or mainstream—because those who have contributed to the industry by centering work around deep cultural connections are neither feeling trendy nor are they just waking up.
Facebook’s analysis isn’t an anomaly. Studies and articles examining ad industry data on diversity and inclusive marketing tend to focus on those agencies for whom multicultural audiences never much mattered. In contrast, those who have dedicated their careers to filling that gap are often positioned as some sort of consultancy working in service to “mainstream” agency colleagues.
Removing barriers that stand in the way of a more diverse and representative industry is something to be encouraged and applauded. But it’s irresponsible to act as if the industry at large has never been here before, especially when it also means erasing those industry practitioners who have been focused on a diverse mainstream for decades.
While the word “equity” appears momentarily in the Facebook study’s introduction, it vanishes in the summary page. Maybe the belief is that equity is a byproduct of getting representation and inclusion right. Or, perhaps, equity seems too messy or even expendable when it comes to addressing the industry’s creative narrative, because equity is rarely raised outside of the internal HR scenarios of agency life.
But representation and inclusion without equity is casting—and casting, it should be noted, can apply to actors just as it can apply to hires that are made by agencies lacking a deep cultural commitment. It’s casting when the proverbial seats at the table don’t come with equal voice or the authority to make meaningful decisions that impact brand growth. It’s casting when the motive is driven by a desire for external approval, when what people see of your staffing is more important than your staff feeling seen.