Younger Generation Fighting Diversity Battle From Within

Government Intervention Isn't Our Only Weapon

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Tiffany Warren
Tiffany R. Warren
I was there on Monday, July 7, at 7 p.m. I sat there quietly, observing a generation gap between the elder vs. the newly minted members of the advertising workforce opening wider in real time. I left the meeting of the New York Commission on Human Rights with my focus sharpened and my resolve strengthened to continue to promote the positive outcomes of the investigation and the shift in consciousness in our industry.

This installment of my blog is not necessarily a thank-you letter to the "weary and rightfully angry" generation of diverse professionals who have come before me, but a letter of support to the current generation of diverse professionals who were characterized in the meeting as "uninformed and naive" because we have the audacity to hope for change in an industry that is trying to.

Are we "nuts" for thinking we can make a difference in the advertising industry by succeeding in general-market agencies across the country because of our talent, rather than our color? Are we "nuts" for mentoring those immediately behind us to create a network of support and encouragement? Are we "nuts" for moving up the corporate ladder and not pulling it up from behind us once we get a title with an "e," a "v" or a "p" in it, or for building multinational, multicultural, multigenerational, multi-industry coalitions of support to begin to cure the plague of inaction around this issue that has flourished in the corner offices of this industry for too long?

Yes, we probably are.

But let's cut back to the meeting. I really wish you could have seen the faces of the younger attendees as they listened to the same stories in different voices. They were visibly moved. The stories, with voices cracking, were of outright nepotism, outright ageism, outright sexism and outright bigotry. It is easy to think that these incidents are hard to prove and that such stories are tall tales, but you don't have to look deep inside these men and women to see the effects of their pain. Their pain is timeless, and some of them have less time and patience left for the industry to do something. We, the young ones, gathered briefly after the meeting, and instead of shaking our heads in defeat, shook hands and pledged to continue to support the industry in its efforts to change and rearrange itself for the better.

Sanford Moore, his supporters and the commission have been fighting long and hard, but they can only do so much.

With that said, I'd like to briefly share with you what is happening right now that is helping, not hurting, the cause for increased diversity in advertising.

In December of 2007, Julius Dunn II contacted me to discuss a new initiative he was launching. It was called Adversity. At the time, he was an admissions representative at an Atlanta-area portfolio school and had witnessed firsthand the lack of people of color entering the creative ranks as he welcomed in new classes of the portfolio school's students. He, himself, had dreams of being a portfolio-school student and eventually an art director, but he saw the bigger need was in changing the game he wanted to play in. Adversity was officially launched in January 2008 by Julius and co-founder Marques Gartrell, a Four A's MAIP alumnus. Adversity is an organization primarily focused on establishing outreach programs for middle, high school and college students who are both unaware of the advertising/design/branding creative fields and culturally underrepresented in the advertising industry. Adversity will be a program of The One Club of New York, and if you'd like to support the group's efforts, you can contact Julius or join the Adversity Facebook community.

Several years ago, Sandra Sims-Williams of Digitas and I met at Pershing Square restaurant in New York City to discuss the climate of the advertising industry at the time and what could be done to create solidarity among advertising diversity executives. Sandra left the restaurant that day and launched a group that has convened at Digitas, New York, with no fanfare, every two months for the past two years to discuss best practices, share the ups and downs specific to the roles of advertising diversity executives and listen to guest speakers who provide expertise in topics ranging from working mothers to the difficulties of diversity management within a creative environment. This group of advertising executives has been a tremendous source of support for me, and I applaud Sandra and its members for providing the forum for "real talk" and change. I cannot speak for the members of the group who were not able to attend last Monday's meeting, but I can tell you that attending one meeting on one day does not characterize my daily commitment to this issue and it should not characterize theirs, either.

Finally, AdColor. Last year, I wrote about lessons learned from the AdColor Awards, so now I'd like to discuss the community built because of that show. While attending the AAF Hall of Achievement ceremony last year, I was approached by Alysha Cryer of Starcom Mediavest Group. We exchanged cards and phone calls and subsequently she became a member of the AdColor Awards Steering Committee. Her commitment to change was palpable. One of Alysha's first goals as a member of the PR & Outreach Committee was to establish AdColor's presence through social-networking platforms. Alysha launched The AdColor Group on LinkedIn and "One Million Strong For AdColor" on Facebook. She felt that the momentum caused by the award show could create a new community of professionals of all colors who care not only about the issue of diversity but are dedicated to recognizing and promoting the success of those professionals in the advertising, marketing and media industries. To answer the question "Where are they?" posed in the meeting last Monday, they are here and here. If you are a current member of Facebook and LinkedIn, these groups are open to everyone.

In my opening paragraph, I said that this was not necessarily a thank-you letter to those who have struggled so long to improve conditions in the industry for people of color. But the fact is, we do thank them. Without their struggles, we wouldn't be where we are today. In fact, Adversity, AdColor and the groundswell of camaraderie among younger professionals of all colors are welcome results of the battles fought by those soldiers and generals who have been at war, not for talent but for an equal playing field within the advertising industry. Let us continue their mission to be a part of the solution.
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