So You Have a Diversity Program -- Has It Mattered?

Look Beyond Career Fairs and Musical Chairs

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Tiffany Warren
Tiffany R. Warren
Jack Neff of Advertising Age recently wrote an article titled, "So You're a 'Best' Place to Work -- Does Anyone Care?" It got me thinking that, now, a year after the New York Commission on Human Rights asked 16 agencies to increase diversity within their companies has the climate of change really helped to thaw out the generally homogeneous culture of the advertising industry?

I am asking, "So You Have a Diversity Program -- Has It Mattered?"

I cannot speak on behalf of the NYCHR 16, nor can I summarize the impact the Commission's activities have had on their bottom lines, recruiting and retention strategies or client/agency relationships. But I can discuss, in general, the trends I have seen as they relate to diversity awareness within the advertising industry over the last year. Some provide hope and potential for a bright future, and others have provided nothing but a small band-aid for a large open wound.

All for One and One for All
You have to start with something or end up with nothing. So a year ago, a group of advertising executives directly responsible for diversity management within advertising agencies gathered at Digitas in New York for the first meeting of the Roundtable of Advertising Diversity Executives. The group, founded by Sandra Sims-Williams of Digitas, had a simple mission: to provide a collaborative forum for supporting and discussing diversity management within advertising agencies. It has grown and has become a place of unlimited support for executives charged with moving the needle in the direction of change within their respective companies. Member agencies include the Kaplan Thaler Group, McCann Erickson, Saatchi & Saatchi and Deutsch among others.

The Diversity Career "Fears"
Companies specializing in talent recruitment and career fairs began approaching advertising agencies almost immediately after the ink was dry on the Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) submitted to the New York Commission on Human Rights. Hot on the heels of the MOUs came contracts to exhibit and hefty registration fees for "can't miss" diversity career fairs and events. In some cases, agencies fearful of being left out used their remaining budgets allocated for diversity to participate in an increasingly crowded field of diversity career fairs dedicated to candidates interested in pursuing a career in advertising.

Yet agencies that spent more time worrying about what warm bodies would be present at the various events and what color their give-aways would be created bad-will ambassadors out of potential hires when these candidates sensed their lack of preparation or a genuine attitude of outreach. I support participation in these events, but agencies must realize that these events should not be used simply to have a presence or just to recruit the next rising star. They should also be seen as a way to raise the collective profile of an industry that made a bad first impression with the multicultural community.

Musical Jeers
In the race to raise the percentages of diverse populations within their ranks immediately, many agencies began composing the notes and lyrics to a siren song laced with immediate promotions and significant pay increases that continue to lure the "hot" diversity star from one agency to another to another. Multicultural marketing agencies often shake their heads in frustration at general-market agencies for poaching their hot talent.

The future for professionals of color already working in general market agencies has never been brighter. But this practice, while great for the career development of those individuals, can be corrosive to the advertising talent pipeline. The focus needs to be on the next wave of recruits. In recognizing this trend, within my role at Arnold and as an industry advocate, I have dedicated resources allocated to discovering the talent of tomorrow and providing them with the mentoring, exposure and support they need to succeed not only at Arnold but in the advertising industry. It is the responsibility of the advertising industry and individual agencies to continue to increase the pipeline of talent so that we may all benefit, and the growth of our discipline and its future may continue to happen for years to come.

Making It Stick
The diversity programs, management and awareness that I and my fellow Roundtable of Advertising Diversity Executives have instituted within our respective companies are faced with challenges, the biggest of which is the "maintain and sustain" issue.

But I cannot entertain the thought that they haven't mattered.

Are the people traversing the hallways and sitting in on brainstorming sessions starting to look less the same? Is senior management showing up at internal diversity-related presentations? Are statements such as, "We don't know where to find them," less bandied about these days?

Having a diversity program isn't "one size fits all," so determine what's going to make the difference for you and your agency. I end by asking again, "So You Have a Diversity Program -- Has It Mattered?"

Only time will tell.
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