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May 14, 2019

By: Perri Grinberg, VP, HR, US

By now, leaders across the advertising and marketing industries understand the importance of a diverse, inclusive workforce. Yet finding the time and resources to transform a homogenous office culture can delay wide-sweeping change. In addition, filling open positions often turns into a rushed process to put people in seats rather than hire talented candidates boasting underrepresented backgrounds and experiences.

The byproduct of these diversity challenges is advertising companies that, by and large, do not reflect modern society. At the same time, though, they work on behalf of clients trying to captivate varying target personas. See the disconnect? Rather than having an internal pool of voices to drive relevant content, advertising businesses without diversity must make assumptions based on research alone — and hope their findings are valid.

To be sure, the answer to underrepresentation is not a simple one. The pool of diverse applicants, especially for C-suite positions, is limited. According to research culled by the Association of National Advertisers, the percentage of African American, Asian, and Hispanic advertising employees drops by about half between the administrative and executive levels.

Why such a diversity discrepancy between junior and senior job title holders? The industry attrition rate is high among minority employees. Ostensibly, many high performers from diverse backgrounds become frustrated because they have so few mentors and role models in the C-suite. As a result, they leave and widen a gap that’s tough to fill.

The good news is that this is all shifting, albeit slowly. Organizations like RAPP are purposefully taking time to find and develop underrepresented talent. That’s a boon for clients who want innovative work created from an inclusive perspective. In our ever-changing societal melting pot, advertisers must be ready to generate best-in-class solutions and ideas. And that’s not possible if we’re hiring carbon copies of the same employee.

What are progressive industry leaders such as RAPP doing to overcome challenges and diversify their teams? Plenty are taking a thoughtful approach to strategically building an in-house heterogeneous workforce by focusing on some specific hiring and retention techniques. Consider these factors when promoting culture diversity:

1.Throw away quotas.

Numbers are not a path to true diversity and inclusion; hiring the right person for the job is. Although we use data to understand where we are and what work we have ahead of us, we do not rely on figures to dictate final decisions. Instead, for every job opening, we ensure that 50% of applicants submitted to hiring managers come from diverse, inclusive cultures. That way, we hire the best individuals and increase the likelihood of boosting representation.

2. Insist on leadership buy-in.

Take a peek at the RAPP’s global leadership team and you’ll see that we practice what we preach from the top down. Hiring leaders who support and embrace diversity allows the message of inclusion to trickle down and flow through the organization. The only way employees at the junior level will feel like they truly belong is if they believe the highest decision makers want them to become a part of the company’s fabric. To keep us on track, we established a Diversity & Inclusion Committee in the United States that is made up of employees from all of our offices, with diverse backgrounds and differing points of view.

3. Share a message of diversity.

Just as important as having leaders who care about diversity is spreading the message of inclusion at every internal touchpoint. Team members understand their organizational purpose as both individuals and collaborators. At the same time, they are encouraged to accept that constant change must happen in order to keep moving toward a healthy, more diverse population of workers.

4. Overcome personal unconscious biases.

People have a tendency to hire others who look like them, act similarly, and share the same values. These unconscious biases are not inherently right or wrong. Still, they need to be acknowledged to obtain a better mix of diverse talent. Consequently, RAPP hosts unconscious bias training to help managers understand the importance of leading more inclusively. For instance, they are aware of who speaks in meetings, who might be excluded, and which people feel insecure voicing their opinions. They can then adjust their supervisorial behaviors to promote openness.

5. Support diversity-focused organizations.

A satisfying way to showcase support for diversity, as well as help communities we serve, is by giving back to diverse organizations. RAPP works with plenty of organizations including She Runs ItADCOLORThe 3% MovementGLAADHACE, and the Omnicom-internal organizations Omniwomen and OPEN Pride. We also engage in the MAIP Fellowship Program. This helps with outreach and also paves new inroads to urge diverse candidates to apply for jobs.

Bit by bit, advertising enterprises are chipping away at the lack of diversity and inclusion that runs rampant in our field. Without a doubt, a day is coming when any person with exceptional credentials and a desire to produce outstanding work can join this innovative industry. We suspect — rather, expect — that day is almost upon us.

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