AAF Austin tackles diversity and inclusion in the advertising industry

AAF Austin tackles diversity and inclusion in the advertising industry

By Sameer Shah

How do advertising agencies drive greater diversity, inclusion, and equity in their organizations? How do we make sure that we’re gaining the benefit of everyone’s input while growing and developing a diverse talent pool? 

Many advertising agencies are struggling with the nuts and bolts of how to achieve these important goals. We began to unpack this topic recently in our first installment of an ongoing discussion entitled Meaningful Action: Within the Work.

Our panel consisted of the following advertising superstars:

McGarrah Jessee Marketing Coordinator and AAF Austin VP of Diversity Jeremy Wood moderated the panel, kicking off with a fundamental question: How does each panelist address being the only minority in a leadership role?

The consensus: It’s easy to become the “go-to” in the organization for diversity issues, often having to serve as the “Google.” That can be an uncomfortable position, and the panel agreed it’s most important for people of color to feel safe in the environment—safe to express their views, be heard, and challenge the status quo when necessary.

“If you don’t feel safe you can’t do the work,” Monet said.

Teaching others in the organization to treat equity with the importance it deserves was the next item on the agenda. Thacker stated, and Drummond agreed, that equity must be discussed as a business problem first and foremost. If organizations don’t take equity seriously, their businesses will suffer. Drummond pointed to data that showed inclusion and diversity makes businesses more successful, and Thacker noted the example of Beyoncé walking out on Reebok because the company’s team didn’t include diverse talents. Nguyen added that equity must be more than “checking a box,” it has to be a “genuine reflection of diversity.”

Reinforcing the notion of equity as a business problem, the group agreed that without sufficient development and growth, good talent will leave the organization. As a fundamental part of development, Nguyen stressed that managers must be allowed to lead in new ways and if others are brought in to provide “fresh new voices,” they must be encouraged to provide innovative input. Dominique added that there must be a universal standard for all, so the achievements of minority team members are viewed equally.

Before the panel concluded, the group fielded two questions from the audience, including how to educate a client who is only interested in targeting one demographic. Everyone viewed this as a teachable moment for the client, and Dominique made the point that while blacks may only represent 13% of the population, they have tremendous influence on pop culture, thereby dramatically increasing their value as an audience.

In closing, each panelist was asked to give the audience a piece of homework to create more diversity in their organizations:

  • Thacker: “Think about challenging systems at your workplace.”
  • Monet: “Question what we normalize.”
  • Nguyen: “Check in with your intention…are you checking the box or intentionally trying to lift up diverse voices and reflect the world?”
  • Drummond: “Continue the conversation.”

Stay tuned for AAF Austin’s next webinar on this critical topic.

Sameer Shah is an AAF Austin member and the founder of Khaana Marketing.