Want to Build Diversity? Sweat the Small Stuff

Little Changes Can Lead to Big Gains Without Making a Major Investment

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Walk around the major cities where most of the largest ad agencies are located, and you will see a mix of people, music, fashion, art and culture that influences product innovation and consumer behavior. Part of what attracts great talent to these major-market agencies is the energy, inspiration and trends influencing popular culture and, consequently, advertising.
Carol Watson is president of Tangerine-Watson, an executive-search and talent-sourcing firm specializing in multicultural marketing talent.
Carol Watson is president of Tangerine-Watson, an executive-search and talent-sourcing firm specializing in multicultural marketing talent.

Walk into the offices of most major advertising agencies in big cities, however, and you get the feeling that you are in another part of the country, where everyone looks, acts and thinks the same and has the same interests in music, food, fashion, art and lifestyle. There is a huge disconnect between the city's pulse and the office environments of most ad agencies. Most candidates will take a look around and conclude that the agency is probably not an inclusive work environment. That's because small details often help define perceptions and can make a big difference when attracting the best and most diverse work force.

We help agencies increase the level of diversity in their talent pools. Part of our process is to do an assessment of the agency's physical environment from the candidate's point of view. We often find that the human-resources team and upper management may be enthusiastic about attracting more diverse talent, but often the feelings of inclusion do not translate to the workspace.

Embracing diverse culture
Of course, little fixes in no way replace the need for hiring managers to treat employees fairly by creating paths to career development and fostering an inclusive work environment. If agencies want to compete for the best talent, embracing a diverse culture and the urban influences that inspire popular consumer trends is crucial.

But in the meantime, small changes can translate to big gains. The small things don't always require major investment, high-level approval or even endless meetings and buy-in. Take an agency's website: From a candidate's perspective, one element that attracts diverse talent is not so much the "diversity mission" but how the mission takes shape at the agency. If you list community and philanthropic involvement, do you include organizations and causes that are focused on black, Hispanic or Asian consumers? If you list schools or career fairs where you recruit, do you include schools or events heavily attended by multicultural candidates?

Does artwork on the walls reflect diverse artists? Wieden & Kennedy's employee photographic gallery, for example, does a great job of showcasing the diversity of cultures and personalities on its staff as you enter the main reception area. Think about the entertainment, speakers and musical talent brought in to the agency. Do they reflect diversity and inclusion? The majority of the top-10 songs on the Billboard charts are still hip-hop and R&B, but the genre is often neglected when inviting musical talent into the agency. There are some agencies that use food and entertainment as a great way to incorporate diversity and inclusion -- and not just on designated holidays (such as Cinco de Mayo or Black History Month). Arnold, for example, has created Around the World to encourage employees to bring in drinks or foods from their culture.

There is a perception that multicultural people leave general-market agencies because they feel more comfortable in a multicultural shop. The feeling of inclusion is one of the factors that can't be overlooked. Chipping away at the small stuff makes room to have more difficult and necessary conversations about diversity and inclusion in our industry.
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