Actionable ways to drive diversity, equity and inclusion in your marketing organization | Digital Agency Canberra
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The lack of diversity in the advertising and marketing industry is not a new issue. There has been talk for years about the need for and benefits of diverse teams and the lack of Black and minority representation in the industry. We see the same in tech — lots of talk with little to show for it. The Black Lives Matter movement and protests sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have again highlighted the need for real action and for agencies and businesses to do more than hand-wringing.

For some context, just 3% of ANA member company CMOs are Black, though African-Americans represent roughly 14% of the U.S. population, according to the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) 2019 diversity report for the advertising/marketing industry. Hispanics/Latinos account for 4% of member company CMOs and 18% of the population. Asians comprise 5% of ANA member company CMOs and 6% of the population. Whites, in contrast, make up roughly 60% of the U.S. population but represent 85% of CMOs, according to the report.

Diverse teams won’t just happen without intention

Companies have long pointed to an upstream “pipeline problem” as the reason they’ve fallen down on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts. It’s more complicated than that, says CJ Bland of the Minority Professional Network, Inc., which hosts a job board and offers diversity, equity and inclusion recruiting, marketing and consulting solutions.

There are multiple factors at play. Companies need to be intentional, conscious and committed from the C-suite downward in their efforts to build and retain diverse teams,” he says. “Multiple studies have shown that diverse teams perform better, including a multi-year study on racial and ethnic leadership in 366 public companies by McKinsey.”

“How can companies be serious or truly committed to diversity if their executives, managers, trainers and suppliers are all predominantly white, and their employees are mostly white?” asks Bland. “In order to achieve ‘true’ diversity, and especially pertaining to equity and inclusion for Black and Brown people, companies must be willing to ‘put your money where your mouth is’ and stop putting up a farce.”

This requires intentional organizational and financial investment in improving diversity, he emphasizes. “Since 1998, our firm (MPN) has specialized in DE&I recruitment and outreach solutions and results. Therefore, I have directly witnessed firsthand a lack of effort and/or financial commitment to ethnic and racial diversity by some employers. We have attracted thousands of online recruitment, digital marketing or integrated solutions clients and advertisers to mpnDiversityJobs.com from over 45 U.S. states and other countries. Yet, investments by most employers have been smaller or transactional in nature versus financially significant, sustainable or strategic.”

Dedicated DE&I initiatives

Several agencies and companies are working to address these issues with specific teams and actions. Jackie Leung, director of talent acquisition at digital marketing agency Wpromote oversees all hiring practices nationwide and leads the agency’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Initiative. “Our overarching goal is to develop a vision, mission and action plan to build and foster an environment based on awareness, acceptance and development of an increasingly diverse employee population,” said Leung.

That includes launching a six-week Digital Mentorship Program for college students. “For this program, we reached out to colleges that we have partnerships with already and additional colleges that rank high on the diversity index and organizations that work with underrepresented minorities in the Advertising space such as COOP,” said Leung.

The agency has also started an internal mentorship program tailored to underrepresented groups and continues to develop new employee resource groups (ERGs). Leung said, “We reach out to all employees and especially those who are actively participating in our ERGs for referrals for our open positions to continue to widen our network in the community.”

Bland also encourages college internship programs — particularly with “Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other distinguished minority organizations, including NSBE, SHPE, NBMBAA, ALPHA and others.”

In addition, companies should “create reverse mentorship programs with executives that allow Black and minority employees to coach executives on engaging with individuals and teams,” suggests Bland. “Invest in diversity recruiting firms and minority-owned training and coaching firms.”

Leung points out how easy it is for advertising and marketing agencies to continue to hire from the same pool of people who “jump from one agency to the next.”

“It is easy to say that it is important and beneficial to the bottom line, but when push comes to shove (especially with fast-paced agency needs) and you need a qualified candidate who is able to step into the role with limited training needed, it is very easy to pluck someone from a competitor,” said Leung. “Although the agency model has shifted in the last 5 years from AOR to project-based and from traditional to digital, many are still hiring from the same pool.”

C-suite commitment and accountability

“Senior leaders must be truly committed to increasing hiring, developing, promoting and retaining Black and minority representation at ALL levels of their organization to align with population growth trends,” said Bland. “Leadership must be willing to adopt and communicate hierarchical guidelines, target goals, metrics and scorecards while holding managers accountable for progress.”

For example, he says, a company with 90% white and 10% minority employees in 2016 that averages 5,000 new hires a year through attrition or growth should not still have the same 90/10 ratio four years later. “An executive should be able to readily access a real-time dashboard to view the percentages of Black and minority candidates being interviewed, hired, promoted and retained,” says Bland.

Company-wide training is critical

“Although many people say that it starts with hiring, it is not 100% accurate,” says Leung. “It does not solely fall on Talent Acquisition teams. It needs to be top down where executives are transparent about the company’s goals for increasing diversity and how they will be involved during the process and when they will provide updates. DEI [diversity, equity, inclusion] training needs to be implemented for all employees, starting with the employees who actively interview candidates to ensure there are no biases during the process and to be able to acknowledge if there is any.”

Bland points out that “Many organizations avoid saying the word ‘Black’ and avoid engaging and promoting black employees; for varying reasons including unconscious bias. Some choose to say ‘diversity’ or focus on women. I have seen multiple examples of corporations providing diversity or unconscious bias training for their employees and the training company was white-owned or had white presenters.”

Advice for hiring managers

Whether a candidate is a “culture fit” has long been a red herring that only served to further entrench the status quo and quash DEI hiring efforts. It should have no place in hiring discussions,.

“We concentrate on the ‘culture add.’ What is it about this candidate that would enrich our culture and organization,” said Leung. “What can we learn from this person and their past experiences that can propel our company forward and continue to innovate? These are the questions we should be asking.”

Bland says hiring managers should focus on the overall qualifications and skills of the candidate and develop a checklist of key skills needed for the role. This will help ensure candidates are screened fairly, equitably and without bias. “Weighted factors perhaps may include: (1) Critical skills score, (2) Soft skills (personality, coachability, confidence, poise, positive attitude, adaptability, etc.), and (3) Diversity attainment goals to enhance future team and company success,” suggests Bland.

Companies should ensure diversity within hiring managers, advises Leung. If that’s not feasible given the current makeup of staff, there are options. “If there is little to no diversity with the hiring managers,” says Leung, “I would leverage employees that belong to the company’s ERGs to be on the interview panel. If the company does not have that, I would encourage them to train individuals who have a diverse background to be a mini interview task force. If there is very little diversity as a whole organization, I would invest in training for the hiring teams to be able to look out for biases and to have structured interviews at the very least.”

How can employees push for change?

Leung offers three suggestions to employees who want to push for change in their own marketing organizations:

  • Do your research and educate yourself about why having a diverse work environment is important. Use the data as leverage when you present to the decision-makers but provide steps and options that can be tailored to your organization. 
  • Create ERGs. The power of a group (as you probably have seen with all the protests happening) is truly amazing to see. Chat with fellow employees who are also interested. The more people you network with internally, the more you will learn and the more experiences will be brought to the table.
  • Keep trying, don’t give up. It may not be an easy journey but you will learn a ton along the way and be able to make an impact.

Bland also recommends doing the research to make your case for the benefits to the organization — and to stick with it:

  • Identify and align with diversity champions both within and external to your organization.
  • Develop a succinct executive presentation citing the overall organizational, cultural, recruitment, retention, clients, community, fiscal and branding benefits of significant initial and sustained DE&I investments.
  • Conduct interviews and ample research to gather specific facts and organizational or fiscal benefits on other companies that are making significant and sustained investments in diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • Leverage alliances with your identified diversity champion(s) to review your findings, analysis and recommendations, and to gain access to senior management within your organization. Send or share your presentation to key stakeholders. Continue to stay persistent, persuasive, focused and positive in your efforts to drive and sustain change within your organization.

Join me for a panel discussion on diversity, equity and inclusion in the marketing and advertising industry during a special edition of Live with Search Engine Land as part of the SMX Next, June 24 at 4:15 – 5:00 EDT.


About The Author

Ginny Marvin is Third Door Media’s Editor-in-Chief, running the day to day editorial operations across all publications and overseeing paid media coverage. Ginny Marvin writes about paid digital advertising and analytics news and trends for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than 15 years of marketing experience, Ginny has held both in-house and agency management positions. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.