If I knew then what I know now, I would have come out in business sooner
DNA founder regrets staying in the closet during the early years of his agency
When Alan Brown started his agency 20 years ago, he says "I felt the need to stay in the closet in the business world. I didn’t think our industry was as open-minded or tolerant as I wished."
If I knew then what I know now is a series of bylines from small agency executives about the lessons they learned in building their shops.
This year, 20 years after founding DNA, we launched a new brand identity and philosophy. Our philosophy is an emotional one: “We make love between people and brands"–not your typical boardroom stuff. As for the design of our logo, it’s a flexible visual design in a block form of our 3 letters (DNA) leaving open a spot for each person in the agency to share a symbol that reflects something interesting or important to them. Some chose symbols of sports teams, sci-fi icons, or things like skis, sharks and time bombs. I chose the equal sign.
To me it was like coming out all over again: sharing with anyone I met in a professional context that I stand for equality, diversity and inclusion.
I came out to my family and friends in the early 1990’s. But when I started DNA two decades ago, I felt the need to stay in the closet in the business world. I didn’t think our industry was as open-minded or tolerant as I wished, and there were no role models or others who made a stand.
It’s been a process to come out in the workplace over the last two decades – to be transparent about my partner and my family. Over those years, I slowly became more comfortable and today I am out to my employees and colleagues, and I bring my entire self to work.
I have two wonderful adopted children, and after many years, I got married last summer. The process of being who I am in the workplace has given me more freedom and much-needed insight into the vital importance of helping my company and our industry become more diverse and inclusive. It's not just about having that show up in the statistics; it's about creating a culture where people can bring their entire self to work.
Over the past few years, we’ve made a point of putting our beliefs behind our actions. We have an unusually diverse leadership team with a gay CEO (me) a president who is African- American and a female chief strategy officer.
We launched our first diversity scholarship – offering both cash and paid internships to students of color. We changed our recruiting policy to ensure that for any open positions, we are interviewing diverse candidates in terms of gender and race. We recently entered into a partnership with Trillium Employment Services to provide jobs to people with physical and intellectual disabilities. And, we are leading an effort on behalf of four agencies in Seattle to bring disclosure to the stage – telling the story of a Seattle-based advertising executive who faced years of discrimination in the workplace.
While I feel good about where we’re heading today, I wish I’d reached into my soul long, long ago, and had the confidence to be who I am every day, and to be a champion for those who don’t fit the mold of the image in our mind of the typical adman.
Ad Age will be holding its tenth annual Small Agency Conference & Awards July 30-31 in New Orleans. For tickets, go here.