By Marie Griffin
In the hit ABC sitcom Black-ish, the main character, Andre "Dre" Johnson (Anthony Anderson), is an African-American who has risen from the 'hood to the upper middle class as an executive at a Los Angeles ad agency. While working at the agency, Dre must deal with a constant stream of racist remarks from his buffoonish white boss. Now, new research from the ANA Educational Foundation (AEF) suggests the creator and writers of Black-ish — although they exaggerate the situation for comedy's sake — are not far off in their portrayal of the world of advertising and marketing.
Titled "Bridging the Diversity Disconnect: Charting More Inclusive Pathways to Growth," the AEF's report found that many African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American people with internships and early-career jobs in advertising and marketing experience discomfort, mistrust, and "culture shock." New recruits felt their managers could not relate to challenges faced by minorities, and they struggled with a lack of cultural understanding and "microaggressions" — words and behaviors expressing disrespect or hostility — from colleagues and managers. What's more, people from underrepresented minorities were wary of discussing these issues because they feared retribution or job loss.
Despite years of effort and periodic bouts of self-flagellation, the advertising industry lacks diversity, and the study lays out a solid argument that the sector has taken a flawed approach by focusing on diversity ahead of inclusion. To solve it, the industry needs "to put inclusion at the heart of any diversity discussion and trust that true inclusiveness will drive better diversity outcomes," the report says.
Cultivating an 'Inclusion Mindset'
While diversity goals can be handed down from the C-suite or managed by human resources, inclusion is a state of mind that must be nurtured throughout an organization's culture continually.
"For diverse workforces to flourish, people need to feel safe and know they can express themselves without fear of judgment," says Karen Kahn, chief communications officer at HP. "It is on us as leaders to step up and have open-minded, open-hearted conversations and to listen to different voices."
Kahn adds that HP encourages an open dialogue about issues relating to diversity, even though it can be uncomfortable.
To spark such conversations, HP recently created "Reinvent Mindsets," a series of YouTube videos designed to "provoke a different kind of conversation around unconscious bias," Kahn says. "One of the spots — called Let's Get in Touch — highlights how ingrained biases influence how job candidates of color are perceived and treated in the tech industry."
In addition to promoting diversity within HP, the company is also taking advantage of its ability to influence its agencies to move this initiative forward. In September 2016, HP made headlines when it challenged its agency and marketing partners to make formal plans to increase diversity and deliver on them within 12 months. Two years later, HP detailed the strides its agencies had made in terms of building on its diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Moreover, HP took the opportunity to show how diverse talent goes hand-in-hand with business performance by comparing HP ads created before and after the program launched. "Brand Monitor showed an impressive six-point increase in purchase intent, and Marketing Mix Analysis, run by Nielsen, captured a 33 percent increase in revenue per impression," HP announced.
Kahn says HP is currently working with its agencies "to create and implement new inclusion measurements that will become part of our agency diversity scorecard and longitudinal reporting."
Growing Use of the Term 'Equality'
Denny's, which calls itself "America's Diner," has replaced the terms diversity and inclusion with Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI), says the company's chief brand officer, John Dillon. This reflects Denny's conviction that its culture should be "diverse, inclusive, and unquestionably fair and equal in opportunity for all," he says.
Among the programs Denny's uses to foster inclusion are trainings for unconscious bias; how to hold discussions of issues pertaining to diversity, equity, and inclusion; and "companywide round-robin-style meetings where all partners and agencies can collaborate and be heard," Dillon says.
Like HP, Denny's extends these initiatives beyond its corporate walls. "As a marketing team, we employ agency partners that are diverse and represent the audience we are targeting," Dillon says. Denny's has been proactive in recruiting more franchisees from underrepresented groups. The company's Franchise Open House event, held at its headquarters, "gives a broader pool of potential partners an opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge and understanding of the past, present, and future of the brand," he adds.
The recent fall of many white male executives in advertising, the media, and big business following sexual harassment and misconduct allegations has heightened the need to make the C-suite more accountable.
Amy Fuller, chief marketing and communications officer at Accenture, points out that her company has completed a series of research studies that focus on "Getting to Equal." The 2018 report "When She Rises, We All Rise," for example, identified 40 workplace factors that create a culture of equality. For 2019, Accenture explored the connection between a culture of equality and innovation with its own metric, called the "innovation mindset," which measures an individual's ability and willingness to innovate.
"Equality=Innovation," an Accenture report based on a survey of more than 18,000 employees in large and small companies in 27 countries, found that "the impact of improving culture on innovation mindset is 42 times greater than the impact of increasing salary."
Fuller says marketers are in a "unique position to affect more than their own team composition" through their work. That includes, she adds, "making sure your supply chain is living up to your own commitment to diversity and inclusion," finding and eliminating stereotypes in marketing programs, and "understanding the issues of the day to avoid polarizing use of language."
Raising Executive Awareness
The Accenture research is among many studies showing that more diverse teams are more innovative and creative, and that leads directly to business growth.
Chris Macdonald, global president of advertising and allied agencies at McCann Worldgroup, says companies have gone beyond asking for proof that diversity produces measurable results. "Both clients and agency groups realize the imperative to attract and retain the most diverse and inclusive population of talent," he says.
McCann Worldgroup is implementing multiple programs that pave the way for more women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups to rise through the executive ranks within its agencies. "We've had a heightened level of focus on developing our diverse mid- to senior-level talent into leadership positions," says Singleton Beato, global chief diversity and engagement officer at McCann Worldgroup.
One strategy McCann Worldgroup is pursuing to bring in more senior people from underrepresented groups is through involvement in professional groups for black, Hispanic, Asian-American, LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Intersex) and others, Beato adds.
In fact, the recent fall of many white male executives in advertising, the media, and big business following sexual harassment and misconduct allegations has heightened the need to make the C-suite more accountable when it comes to "walking the talk" around equity, diversity, and inclusion.
The AEF report addresses this issue, saying that ANA leadership and the association's members recognize "the need to build and nurture talent extends across every level of the organization." Although the AEF's mandate is to inspire the next generation of advertising and marketing leaders primarily through relationships with academia, the ANA launched the Talent Forward Alliance in March 2018 as a platform for expanding the association's efforts in talent development. In addition to continuing to bring new candidates into the advertising industry, the Alliance will help accelerate the professional development and training of existing talent.
Other advertising groups are tackling the problem, too. In early 2018, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A's) announced a certification program for top industry leaders "aimed at creating safe and productive work environments that create cultures of inclusion, equity, creative dialogue, and social transformation."
Initially called Enlightened Workplace Certification, the program has been rechristened the Workplace Enlightenment Certification (WEC) program. It is currently being redesigned and prepared for relaunch in late summer or early fall. Changes being implemented to WEC include making the time commitment practical for busy executives and adjusting fees so that middle as well as upper management can participate, says Simon Fenwick, EVP of talent engagement and inclusion at the 4A's.
"We have a lot of advocates within the agencies because they understand that they need to evolve as leaders," Fenwick says. "They want to go beyond the rhetoric to develop actions and practices businesses can live by as they build more enlightened organizations."
Fenwick stresses that a growing number of agencies and clients are beginning to hold one another accountable. "We see clients rejecting agencies because they are not seeing an inclusive pitch team or people of color on the business," he says. "And some agencies are declining to pitch certain clients because they're not seeing those organizations being inclusive and diverse."
Cigna Examines the Female Career Path
The path to success for women business leaders is seldom a straight line, and the women who take the journey will invariably rely on their adaptability, determination, and confidence along the way. That's what Cigna discovered in its recent survey of 1,000 female business leaders across various industries and geographies.
Eighty-one percent of the women agreed that career progression isn't linear, and 86 percent credit cross-functional or diagonal career moves with getting them to where they are. Looking ahead, the vast majority of female business leaders (89 percent) say that continual technological change will require women to actively seek out new types of jobs, skills, and career experiences as they progress toward leadership roles in the future.
Cigna initiated the survey in order to help women within and beyond the organization understand what it really takes to climb the corporate ladder. "While meeting with my colleagues during site visits to our businesses around the world, I often gather women in leadership to understand their experiences," says Lisa Bacus, EVP and global CMO at Cigna. "That made me want to learn more about the factors that lead to success for women."
As a Latina, Bacus has a personal interest in discovering how Hispanic women move into leadership roles. The survey found that mentorship is one factor that has a disproportionate effect on a Latina's career path. Eighty-two percent of Hispanic women reported that their success was made possible by the mentorship of other female leaders, in contrast to 70 percent of respondents overall.
This research on women's career journeys is part of a greater commitment to inclusiveness at Cigna, Bacus adds. "To feel a part of the organization, individuals must be able to see others who represent them across the business," she says. "As a business and as a public company, we connect everything back to growth, and so we have always viewed diversity and inclusion as business imperatives."