Diversity talk is cheap

As president of the Glass Lion jury, Wendy Clark, president and chief executive officer of DDB North America, says the time has arrived to take action on diversity.

Diversity talk is cheap

Nine hundred words to spur us all to action.

As president of the Glass Lion jury this year, Campaign kindly offered me the opportunity to give my point of view on diversity. I stared at a blank page for a while. After all, given the tumultuous year our industry has had on diversity, what has not already been said by so many about the challenges, the need and the opportunity for our agencies and companies? 

I struggled with what was left to say.

And then it hit me. 

There is nothing left to say, there is only action left to take.

As an industry, we need to stop talking and start acting – holding ourselves accountable to recruiting, retaining, developing and advancing people in our agencies and companies that better reflect the marketplace that it is our task to reach and engage for our clients.

As Gandhi said: "Action expresses priorities." I fundamentally believe that achieving true diversity in our agencies is an urgent priority. Our agencies must become a mecca of different perspectives, that are culturally rich, welcoming and nurturing of teams with mosaic experience. I simply do not see how we will meet the talent demands of our business and achieve our clients’ goals without aggressively implementing efforts to do this. 

The author Margaret Atwood said: "If I waited for perfection… I would never write a word." Similarly, we must get going with initiatives that address our industry’s dire need for more diversity. 

On Atwood’s point, I am certain none of us feels that we have got all the actions and all the answers. Still, by sharing our plans, actions and outcomes, we can collectively start to make progress and move from talk to action.

Last year, as a foundational step at DDB, we implemented unconscious-bias training for all 2,000 associates in North America. As we undertook this effort, we had some hesitance – was something broad enough to be suitable for training everyone really going to advance our cultural understanding of how to address bias in our workplace at a deep enough level?

Well, it was. What happened in our unconscious-bias groups were remarkable conversations and illuminating exchanges that were so needed and so necessary to advancing our culture, our understanding and tolerance for each other and ensuring our agencies were truly places where everyone felt they could bring their full selves, their true selves, to work every day.

In fact, the training was so successful that our offices across the region proactively signed up for continued unconscious-bias training this year – something that wasn’t required but that everyone felt would continue to enrich our culture and create more progress.

"There is nothing left to say, there is only action left to take."

Another effective action is the opportunity to partner Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (Edge), a third-party company that provides accreditation of gender equality in the workplace. Edge assessed many dimensions of our agency practices – including training/development, advancement/promotion and compensation – to determine whether we were gender equitable. As a part of the accreditation process, Edge helps with initiatives and programmes that improve and advance gender equality practices.

Many agencies took a close look at their hiring practices as a means to improve diversity. Actions such as expanding the universities and ad schools that we were recruiting from to include historically black colleges and universities have helped our internship programmes to be more accessible and interesting to diverse candidates. And the outcome reflects the focused approach – nearly 50% of our 2017 interns are from culturally diverse backgrounds.

Perhaps most importantly, many agencies have embraced ways to have a continuously open dialogue about their commitment to do more and better in terms of diversity and inclusion. From "town halls" to weekly newsletters, there are many good practices out there to learn from.

At DDB, we do a live, weekly broadcast on Zoom to all associates in the US and Canada. Doing a live broadcast is not particularly revolutionary, in fact we shamelessly stole the idea from Google where the founders do a similar live "town hall" weekly with all their associates globally. But what this platform has allowed is an ongoing, earnest and often spontaneous discussion about our priorities for diversity and inclusion. Not only that, all associates can ask questions in real time about things such as: where we stand on progress against these initiatives, what actions we are taking to achieve our goals and, most importantly, express their opinions, support, frustrations or ideas.

What is most clear is that it will take all of us, not just some of us, to meet our goals on diversity and inclusion. Every decision, every action, every conversation, every meeting, every email, every shared elevator ride, every happy hour, every moment of every day at our agencies must seek to further our diversity agenda. Ultimately, this is about culture, and creating a place where people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, ages, religions, disabilities and beliefs feel like they can cross our thresholds every day and do the best work of their careers because of their uniqueness, not despite it. 

Poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once said: "In diversity there is beauty and there is strength." Indeed, by working together with actions as our remit we can fuel change and assure our agencies and our industry of a beautiful, diverse and strong future.