Improving Diversity And Inclusion In Advertising

Shereta Williams, July 25, 2019
President of Videa, with over 10+ years of experience within Cox, leads the organization’s overall strategic and product direction.

 

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Diversity and inclusion are concepts no longer confined to human resources departments but have rather moved to the forefront of discussions across the business landscape and wider culture — albeit perhaps unevenly. In my industry — advertising, public relations, and related services — only 23.5% of professionals are African American, Asian or Hispanic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while people of these races (excluding those of two or more races) make up an estimated 37.3% of the U.S. population.

I don’t profess to be an expert on the subject, but over the course of my career, I have learned and noticed some simple actions that make a difference. For instance, I know that hiring one woman, person of color or LGBT staffer to meet an arbitrary quota isn’t enough to solve a problem that demands focused and intentional effort from industry leaders. I know that recruiters can do more than meet numbers and percentage quotas; they should be self-aware during the hiring process to focus on the merits of each individual applicant rather than letting ingrained biases influence their thinking. I believe this process starts with recognizing that biases are often rooted in misunderstandings, such as what diversity really means and why we need it.

Debunking Misconceptions

In general, it feels as if diversity in advertising only becomes a hot topic whenever a controversial spot hits the airwaves. But ads may only become more inclusive if they’re created and sold by diverse groups of people.

Overall, I believe the most important part of any inclusion initiative is equity, a focused and intentional effort to correct imbalances and create an accessible, fair workplace. Equity-centered hiring emphasizes the importance of bringing staffers with varied backgrounds into the ad industry. It involves and engages diverse groups of people in the company culture and gives them a much-needed share of the company voice.

Employees of different races, genders and sexual orientations can bring fresh ideas and new perspectives to the table. Diverse staffers can even be a pipeline to involve new demographics in ad campaigns. The whole team should be open to hiring these cohorts and learning from them. One easy — and fun — way to open up these topics with different coworkers is to commemorate a more diverse assortment of holidays and occasions as a company, including but not limited to Diwali, Eid al-Fitr, the Lunar New Year and Pride Month. This is a great way to spark mindful conversations, and who doesn’t love another reason to celebrate?

Another low-investment but high-impact method for creating diversity in the office is to reexamine your existing educational resources, such as HR brochures, pamphlets and other informational materials. Do they have depictions of the positive, diverse workforce you’re envisioning? If not, they could be subtly sending the wrong message. More broadly speaking, managers should continually endeavor to understand the existing racial and gender disparities at their firms and correct them without adopting a Band-Aid mentality.

The ‘Tokenism’ Dilemma

Even the most well-meaning diversity initiatives can go awry when companies focus on stopgap solutions. Adding one woman or person of color won’t fix this problem because representation isn’t a “one-and-done” issue.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard that staffers who are placed in positions of influence can often feel isolated or like they don’t have as much power as their colleagues. It may be harder for people to speak up if they’re not supported by coworkers of similar backgrounds.

This becomes especially difficult in the world of TV advertising wherein brands must ensure spots don’t offend consumers. I feel that if we commit to creating a workforce that accurately represents our audiences, moments of crisis are less likely. I’ve heard of companies attempting to eliminate bias in hiring by asking job candidates to omit information that includes their name and their schools when they submit cover letters and resumes. Scenario planning with regard to certain office situations that might arise could also be wise for avoiding conflict.

However, advertisers don’t have to tackle this issue on their own, as there are a wide array of new methods and technologies they can adapt to use in their diversity initiatives. For example, companies could use predictive analytics to show audiences more multicultural programming and offer better content recommendations to viewers of different backgrounds.

Equality Through Data

There are already many resources available to help TV marketing firms with diversity initiatives. One new industry standard is the Diversity Best Practices (DBP) Inclusion Index, which helps organizations identify and correct gender and racial discrepancies and implement systemic changes. Any enterprise that takes part in the DBP program must center inclusion in recruitment, retention and advancement; firms must also provide specific data on the representation of women, people of color and other minority groups in their workforce.

Technology will play an even more important role going forward. Unilever, for example, has been using artificial intelligence for hiring and says it has improved diversity. Candidates submit their LinkedIn profiles and then play neuroscience-based games to analyze their capabilities. If their results match the profile Unilever requires for a certain position, they move on to a recorded, automated interview that analyzes things like keywords, intonation and body language. Virtual reality (VR) also tantalizes with its potential: LLoyds Banking Group uses VR in its hiring process to roleplay workplace scenarios. In my opinion, this could help level the playing field by shifting the conversation to critical thinking skills — as opposed to only static resumes — which can reflect the candidate’s socioeconomic background as much as their individual qualities.

Regardless of the means, the business case for diversity is overwhelming because it can impact not just employees, but their customers as well. For the advertising industry, a diverse, equitable future won’t be easy, but I believe it’s a vital mission — and thankfully, one with which new tools are at our disposal to help. We enable storytellers — they can inspire anything, and that includes a better world.

To view this article, please visit forbes.com

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