Should We Launch a Holding-Company Project?

We Need to Flood the Pipelines to Ensure Diversified Mainstream Leadership

By Published on .

Tiffany Warren
Tiffany R. Warren
Several months ago, I attended a reception at the offices of the White House Project. Inspired by their work, I drew parallels between the progress the advertising industry has made toward its goal to create a more diverse workforce and the mission of this group. The official mission of The White House Project is to advance women's leadership in all communities and sectors -- up to the U.S. presidency -- by filling the leadership pipeline with a richly diverse, critical mass of women. Their goal is simple: "Add women, change everything." Can the advertising industry take inspiration from the work of the White House Project to install and retain diverse leadership in its highest office, the holding company?

What the White House Project has done successfully is to create several ways, besides just highlighting and sourcing talent, to ensure the retention, promotion and visibility of women in the media as well as the local and national political stage. They provided leadership and media training, created benchmarks to measure the success of women in leadership positions and politics and, based on research, built resources that increased the visibility of female commentators in the media.

Like The White House Project, the advertising industry has instituted several programs, notably through the AAF and the Four A's, that created the promise of a "richly diverse" talent pipeline. But has the industry done enough to ensure these individuals can some day be considered for a position as the head of a holding company, the highest position of leadership within the advertising industry? Are there industry benchmarks to measure our success? How do we truly know the full extent of the lack of diversity in positions of leadership? There are very few examples of diverse leadership within general-market agencies and I can think of only Heide Gardner, senior VP-chief diversity & inclusion officer at Interpublic as leadership at the holding-company level. (If there are any others please note them in the feedback section.)

As an African-American female, I am pleased that the Democratic primary race for president has both a black man and a white woman running for office. Frederick Douglass said "without struggle, there can be no progress" and from the struggles of the suffrage and the civil rights movements came the promise these two candidates represent. I have stayed away from making overt political commentary under The Big Tent (much like Superman stays away from kryptonite) but both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's campaigns signal continued progress. Either's election to the office of the President of the United States would be historic.

I am cautiously optimistic that my generation will be the one to break down the Berlin Wall of beliefs: a woman, black or white, or a black man can never be the President of the United States due to the gender inequities and racial tensions that are intertwined in our nation's history.

Sadly, that history is echoed in the advertising industry as well. Even though there has been a decline in the significance of race and gender in the U.S., are we going to passively continue to site historical progress or are we going to take a more active role and make actual history in our own industry's highest office? Based on this year's race, adding women and color does change everything.
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