Adland execs say the industry lacks action with diversity

"I've spent a lot of time being the 'one' in the room, and years of being the 'one' makes you think, 'Someone should do something about this.'"

Diversity and inclusion has been a hot topic for some time, but progress seems to be stagnating due to a lack of concrete action.

"I think the business case for women has been made," Kristen Cavallo, CEO of The Martin Agency said speaking at a panel for The Female Quotient during ANA Masters of Marketing last week.

"Despite that, the number of women in leadership positions has decreased and so I don’t think it’s rational," she said. 

"I think that we benchmark a lot of those companies, and there are a ton of surveys, but it doesn’t seem to be manifesting in change." 

But when Cavallo took over as CEO of The Martin Agency in 2017, she immediately shook things up, proving that the issue for others may just be a lack of willpower. 

"We did a lot of things. We hired a diversity and inclusion specialist, sponsored pride parades, brought in drag queens, and more. I told my team, ‘Don’t look to what others are doing, because we have to be delusional in our goals and make it happen.’" 

"At one point, we realized we didn’t have to ask for permission to implement any of this stuff. We extended paternity leave, paid off student loans… it was like girl’s gone wild for D&I," she said. 

But while Cavallo has certainly made an impact, much more needs to be done, as that lack of diversity extends beyond women.

"I’ve spent a lot of time being the 'one' in the room, and years of being the 'one' makes you think, 'Someone should do something about this,’" said Husani Oakley, EVP, director of technology & innovation at Deutsch. 

He recalled how being a black man in the industry became increasingly isolating as he moved into a more corporate world. 

"When I started out writing code early in my career, nobody knew what type of people should be making things for the internet. They said, ‘Oh you know how to code, come right on in, we’re a big happy family.’" 

"But as that changed to more traditionally structured companies getting into those technology builds those old fissions began to pop up, and that's when I felt like I was being taken from room to room as the token minority," he said. 

At the end of the day, Cavallo said talk doesn't make change; the industry needs to take action if it wants to make real moves with diversity and inclusion.

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