Diversity Is More Than Just a Quota

Oct 03, 2016

As the advertising industry continues to face mounting pressure for its diversity issues, frank discussions about race, gender, age and more took the spotlight at the 2016 Advertising Week conference in New York. Although conversation has certainly moved forward and companies are increasingly focused on solutions that create real change, the industry still has a long way to go. What’s clear is that agencies and brands are moving beyond “talk” and making concerted efforts to demonstrate their commitment to addressing the issue.

Executives from both sides of the table came to the Advertising Week stage last week to offer their thoughts on how businesses can take steps to not only promote diversity and inclusion, but also deliver on it.

“If you’re constantly coddling brands you’re never going to see change.” - Jenn Duong, Director of VR, 1215 Creative

Stop playing it safe.

In the panel, “A Cultural Revolution: Are We Ready for The Next 50 Years in Advertising?” Rashad Drakeford, content creator and digital marketer at Revolt, called for brands to take a stance on the issue of diversity, be accountable for the impact they have, and hold their partners accountable as well. Though this may seem difficult considering advertisers and marketers typically err on the side of caution when addressing issues in society, Jenn Duong, Director of VR at 1215 Creative, argued that playing it safe is a great risk. “If you’re constantly coddling brands you’re never going to see change.”

A seat at the table. Any company can meet a quota, but if your company is not inclusive it’s not creating true change. According to Duong, in order for real change to happen, diversity and inclusion “need to be rooted in the core values of your company.” Ken Wheaton, Managing Editor at Ad Age, added that it’s not just about getting diverse and young talent in, it’s about training, mentoring and growing them within the company to make sure they go on to become leaders. It’s about building and nurturing a diverse pipeline of talent.

The panel of female leaders at The Girls’ Lounge talk “From Bitches to Badass” also offered their insights on the topic of increasing diversity at the senior level by promoting leadership styles that incorporate individual strengths. Soul Cycle Instructor, Elianna Sable described her style as inclusive: “I try to make everyone feel like a rock star.” Anne Kavanagh, CEO/Founder Hello Zera, highlighted her vulnerability as a strength that allows her to grow and connect with her teams. Coco Videla, Founder of The Village, even noted that she doesn’t like to use the term “leader” because that suggests someone has to follow and she prefers to work with her employees on an equal basis.

Take responsibility for change.

Duong called for marketers and advertisers to take responsibility for their reach in the digital space and ensure the stories they’re telling are representative of the entire community, a universal demographic. “It is our responsibility to encourage the youth to do everything they want to. The time for voices to be heard is now,” she said. She also highlighted the opportunities in an emerging Virtual Reality (VR) space, a new and level playing field for young talent to tell their stories.

“In equal representation and equal voice for men and women, we can have a better world.” - Marc Pritchard, Global Brand Building Officer, P&G

Stand behind defying stereotypes.

In the talk “Leadership in a Mobile World,” one of the most recognized feminists, COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg argued that a major problem hindering progression to a more gender equal society is that we don’t expect women to lead. In order for change to happen, she called upon businesses to take action, stating that “putting your brand behind defying stereotypes is one of the biggest changes you can make in the world.” From a brand perspective, Marc Pritchard, Global Brand Building Officer at Procter & Gamble agreed that in having “equal representation and equal voice for men and women we can have a better world.” Offering up a valuable example, he showcased an ad for Tide asking men to #sharetheload with their wives and take part in promoting the evolution of gender roles inside the home. 


The resounding sentiment–and promise–from the industry was clear. In order for change to take place, brands and companies need to talk less and do more. The diversity problem is clear. Now it’s time to take action.