November 24, 2020

By Tony Stanol, President, Global Recruiters

With all the racial unrest this year, the advertising industry has caught the wave of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.  

In June a grass roots organization for the advocacy of black talent in advertising took action.  600 & Rising dispatched a Call to Action open letter urging agencies to publicly report their diversity data and commit to doing better.  
The advertising industry complied by producing stats on their diversity composition.  These numbers indicated a significant underrepresentation of non-Caucasian staff.

Virtually every majorr agency and holding company now has a Diversity and Inclusion Chief.  In October Ad Age said it’s “Advertising’s Hottest Job.”

Having been on Madison Avenue in the 1990’s, I feel like I’ve seen this movie before.  Only that promise to hire more diverse talent in advertising:  

a.) did not have as much energy as today,

b.) had no mechanisms for installing best practices in the organization, and

c.) soon fizzled away.

I recently talked to several D&I officers.  I also attended the 4A’s virtual D&I Congress for four days this fall and Hispanicize 2020.  Here’s my take as an independent executive recruiter.

Some D&I leaders come from Human Resources ranks and others from various departments throughout the agency.  The latter individuals were frequently already D&I advocates within the organization. Some of them were given the D&I title and duties in addition to their functional responsibilities.

I also found some tenured HR professionals somewhat defensive about the new attention to D&I.  More than one groused that “we’ve already been doing this for years.”

Comprehensive internal training programs were organized including:

a.    Unconscious bias programs
b.    Race Matters workshops
c.    How to have a Difficult Conversation workshops
d.    Review of processes to weed out systemic barriers

Commitment and participation needs to come from the top of the org chart for these efforts to succeed.

This shouldn’t be a short term initiative.  Agencies need to define their diversity plan with five and 10 year goals.  Leaders should foster this attitude throughout the organization.  It would help if some of these leaders were people of color particularly for retention.

This movement has shined a spotlight on an issue that’s not only important on its own but also to other constituencies, employees, shareholders and investors.

Several people have asked me if I have seen prejudice or a reluctance to hire underrepresented talent in the industry in my 12 years of recruiting.  I’m here to tell you I personally have not.  In fact, I have been requested on a number of occasions to give priority to people of color and women.  I appreciate receiving this direction because I can focus my search more efficiently with this “unwritten” request.

Despite this experience, does prejudice exist?  Sure it does, the industry numbers speak for themselves.  

One other area where I’ve learned to decipher the shorthand for hiring prejudice is ageism.  I hear the request for someone with 10-12 years of experience, an “up and comer” with lots of energy.  All code for “younger, cheaper” for senior roles.

This caused me to do some soul searching about placements in my firm.  Our D&I stats actually beat the industry average!  A whopping 42% of our placements since 2008 have been Black, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern and/or some combination of LGBTQ.  
Will the industry change?  The proof will be in the 2021 stats and beyond.  Channel the D&I officers’ passion to action that takes hold.  Let’s keep the energy so this doesn’t fizzle out like before.   


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