Talent and the Culture of Accountability

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The topic is hot, but by no means is the conversation new. Talent seeking in the advertising industry needs to expand its diversity and inclusivity in order to change cultural norms inside agencies and be better representative of the population.

A panel of fierce leaders, Edward Frankel, Senior Vice President, Director of Talent Acquisition at Omnicom Health Group, God-is Rivera, Director of Inclusion and Cultural Resonance at VML, Allison Sabol, Global Talent Director at Anomaly and Marc Strachan Executive Vice President, Chief Client Officer at Publicis.Sapient, moderated by Keesha Jean-Baptiste, Senior Vice President of Talent Engagement and Inclusion at 4As, sat down to discuss this ever-important and changing topic.

The problem facing this industry isn’t lack of talent, but lack of diverse talent seeking. As Frankel pointed out, the pipeline is jammed with super talent. The issue, according to Jean-Baptiste, is that privilege is acting as a barrier in the pipeline. There is no shortage in talent, but there is a blind spot. From finding an entry-level to C-suite position, what matters most is who you know, where you went to school, and what your network is. This leads to a large amount of people not being represented in the advertising industry. The dominant archetype of the advertising industry is a white male.

“We’ve all accepted this to be the norm when it is not representative of everyone,” said Rivera.

This norm must be dismantled, which starts with seeking diverse entry-level employees. The industry has changed– Strachan provides the example of the office dress code relaxing to the point that he feels overdressed wearing a suit to work– yet, when it comes to cultural norms in agencies, progress is not being made fast enough.

So how do talent engagers and their agencies actively work on improving diversity and inclusion? Each panelist had a different suggestion. Increasing awareness for careers in advertising and reaching out to more university campuses could impact entry-level change. Leaders in agencies need to begin the conversation to encourage others to raise their hand and join in the movement. Strachan suggested implementing a type of “Rooney Rule” like in the NFL that requires diversity in the interview stage at the very least. To find diverse hires, an agency cannot keep looking for employees in the same places repeatedly.

Leaders in agencies must be committed to and invested in doing the right thing and holding their agencies accountable for making change happen. The weight should not fall on the shoulders of talent engagers alone.

“Diversity and inclusion can be everyone’s job and therefore no one’s job,” said Sabol.

Change starts small and becomes big and all begins with conscious actions to see a new perspective. Even just thinking, “How can I zig instead of zag,” advised Rivera.

“Challenge yourself every day to think a little differently,” said Rivera.

Offering one last thought on how to improve the situation, Frankel encouraged everyone to “just be yourself.” If an agency doesn’t want you for who you are, go to a new agency, said Frankel.

““Be you, be kickass, do your job, don’t break the law,” said Frankel, “we are all going to be successful together.”

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