Embracing Diversity Is No Accident

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While conversations about racial and gender diversity (and the lack thereof) have been had in agency hallways since the days of Mad Men, it seems diversity and inclusion in advertising doesn’t really get addressed until someone—usually a senior-level white male executive—does or says something boorish and wrong about race or gender. This invariably leads to a lot of hand-wringing, wrist-slapping, and soul-searching, followed by a mea culpa—usually from a senior-level white male executive—coupled with promises to do better and mandates to fix the “diversity problem.” After a while, the dust settles and the industry quietly slips back into a comfortable status quo and the “diversity problem” gets deprioritized until the next blowup once again forces us to ask ourselves, “Why do we keep getting this wrong?”

In recent years, racial, gender and age diversity in advertising have become increasingly more urgent issues, as a number of high-profile incidences have forced the industry to take a hard, honest look at itself. Most—if not all—agencies today have diversity and inclusion programs as well as awareness trainings in place, either at the holding company level or at the business unit level. All of these agency diversity and inclusion initiatives would suggest that the industry is doing (or at least trying to do) a lot to move the needle, yet the needle appears to be stuck for many or continues to move at a glacial pace. While diversity and inclusion training programs are important and much needed, they clearly aren’t enough.

Creating programs to address diversity and inclusion is one thing, but embracing diversity and embodying a genuine ethos of inclusion are entirely different things altogether. Agencies that succeed at creating inclusive, diverse teams don’t do so by accident. Here are five ways to more effectively integrate diversity into your agency:

1. Stop treating diversity as a “problem.” Think of it as a business driver.

Perhaps the greatest dilemma with diversity in advertising is that it’s often treated as a “problem” that can be solved if we only worked hard enough at treating the symptoms instead of trying to cure the underlying causes. Diversity and inclusion need to be fundamental components of an overall people strategy. Rather than thinking of it as a “problem,” diversity needs to be embraced as the differentiating opportunity and business driver that it is.

2. Empower people to bring their whole, authentic selves to work.

A conscientiously inclusive workplace fosters a culture that encourages all people—regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, age, etc.—to bring their whole selves to work, allowing a multiplicity of perspectives and ideas to flourish. More than simply providing programs to “teach” the value of diversity, people immersed in diverse workplaces teach and learn from each other. Personally connecting with co-workers wherever they are on their life journeys—and knowing that individual and collective contributions are appreciated—show how we are more alike than not.

3. Indoctrinate employees (early and often) in a culture that values distinctiveness and purpose-driven work.

Actively and consciously nurturing an inclusive culture needs to championed throughout an agency—from the mailroom to the corner offices. For example, at Publicis Health agencies, including Digitas Health, we have a talent philosophy that we call Purpose Squared—the exponential value and impact realized through the matching of individual distinctiveness and purpose to our business purpose. With a wide array of teams and businesses within Publicis Health, we can find the right match of purpose to purpose. Indoctrinating employees to appreciate their colleagues as individuals and to recognize the greatness that each person brings from their lives to their work goes a long way to breaking down barriers.

4. Talk candidly and openly about race, gender, sexual orientation, age, etc.

Encouraging people to talk openly and candidly about the myriad topics surrounding diversity. means not shying away from addressing the unconscious biases that everyone holds. Whether it’s facilitating safe space conversations that allow people to share their personal perspectives on race, gender and other topics in a non-judgmental forum or hosting meetups and other events for agency affinity groups, having the sensitivity to address sensitive subjects demonstrates a commitment to open dialogue.

5. Leaders must model behavior that drives diversity and inclusion.

Agency values need to be modeled by executive leadership team every day. If there are positive examples of behavior that supports diversity and inclusion, it becomes evident throughout an organization. If it’s all talk and no action, that’s evident, too. It’s no accident that the senior-level white male executives at Publicis Health, including our CEO, Nick Colucci, serve alongside our senior-level female executives as mentors for the next generation of women leaders within our organization. Or that Publicis Health agencies sponsor a robust supplier diversity program. These kinds of behaviors are built into our DNA and supported by a leadership team that walks the walk and talks the talk on diversity and inclusion.

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