How Diversity Helps the Bottom Line


Last week I spoke on a panel for a 3% Conference event so I’ve been giving more thought than usual to diversity in advertising. We talked about practical things agencies and individuals can to Change the Ratio and get more women in creative leadership. My next few posts will deal with ideas that came up at that event. 

A special shout out to the moderator, Martha Hiefield, Global Chief Talent Officer at POSSIBLE and the other panelists: Kammie McArthur, Creative Director; Danielle Trivisonno Hawley, Americas Chief Creative Officer, POSSIBLE; Hart Rusen, Creative Director, Meckanism and Dave Miller, Principal Recruiter, Artefact, and thanks to Publicis Seattle for hosting a great event. 

In working with and for a wide variety of agencies, I’ve seen a consistent narrative: yeah, a more diverse workplace is a good thing, but it doesn’t help the bottom line. Some agency leaders have even suggested that intentionally hiring a more diverse staff will result in a less qualified work force and present a financial risk. Besides, some of these leaders will say, we’re already sort of diverse, aren’t we? 

So how can we reframe the narrative to get agency leaders to understand that a more diverse workplace actually can help the bottom line? 

Look around your agency and be honest. Are most of your worker bees young, white, thin, and attractive? Are your leaders primarily middle-aged white men? How many women are in leadership and how many of them are women of color? How many people of color work at your company at any level? How many women over fifty? Is there anyone with a disability? 

Having a diverse work force is good for the bottom line as well as a social good. Here are just a few reasons why. 

Creative companies want to lead culture. But culture isn’t led by the kind of middle-aged white men who run ad agencies and holding companies. To hire the people who are doing the best, most cutting edge work we need to make sure that they feel welcome, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or age. 

Innovative recruitment, training, mentorship, and other programs and initiatives can get you access to that kind of talent—and help you keep it. Too many agencies tell me it’s too hard to find talented people of color or women creatives. I don’t believe that—mostly because I don’t think they’re looking very hard—but if you think it’s true, then grow your own. Get kids out of high school and college. Look at unexpected artists. A friend of mine is a public defender in LA. She was looking through the pictures of graffiti done by one of her clients who was under arrest for, yes, being a graffiti artist. “Do you know what I’m looking at?” she asked him. “This is a portfolio.” Open your mind to where talent comes from. 

I’ve won a number of pitches by putting a diverse agency team across from a diverse client team. Once we were pitching a coveted national juice brand with a female CEO and other women in senior leadership. Our team was led by two women who did most of the presenting. We won the business, mostly because our work was great and partly because we followed a team of four white guys with one young woman whose only job was to carry the computers and pitch materials. 

In my experience, the clients who are doing cool work are more diverse than the clients who aren’t. They understand that wider cultural perspectives yield better work and they hire agencies that can give that to them. Also, many of these brands are not just advertising in the US anymore – they are looking for a multi-cultural, global perspective that’s unlikely to come from an all-white, all-American creative team. 

We’ve all seen the ads that should never have been made, the ones so sexist or racist that they make your teeth ache. But there they are – in an award show or actually running in the real world until social media catches on, takes them viral, and hammers the careers of the responsible parties. 

How do those ads get into the wild? Because no woman or person of color was in a position to say, “Hey, that’s offensive.” It’s not enough to have a diverse team, you have to actually let people speak, listen to what they say, and act on it. 

The same goes for internal communication. Campbell Ewald almost foundered when a series of internal emails about “Ghetto Days” – sent by white leaders – went public. Major clients left and the CEO and others were fired. It’s hard to believe that this could have happened with a more diverse leadership team in place. 

These are just a few ways in which diversity is good for the bottom line. Please suggest more in the comments section, below. 

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