Adland needs to interrogate its recruitment strategies

"We need to be conscious of tokenism."

Are we there yet?
Ambika Pai
Head of Strategy
Mekanism

Tell us about one thing that's happened recently that leads you to believe that there's still a problem?

Whenever someone posts a call for talent on LinkedIn, I realize that we’re still in a talent crisis. We’ve all spoken at length about the diversity issue at the executive level, but are also not doing enough to open the doors to our industry, and train/sustain at the entry level.

It starts with interrogating our recruitment strategies. If we continue to only look at the elite (often most expensive) schools, our own alma maters, or collegiate environments (hello, ageism!), overarchingly, we’re missing out on tons of amazing talent.

And when it does come to the executive level, we need to be conscious of tokenism. It’s happening all around us. Companies hire whoever they need to fill their quotas or satisfy their clients who are asking for "diversity," and then parade the talent around on their Instagrams and at conferences, without doing anything behind closed doors to help them succeed.

My dream is that in the next five years we’re not still saying things like "we need a person of color on this team, so let’s hire her" or "I want to hire a (fill in your blank here), but there isn’t anyone as qualified as this guy."

How about something that proves we're making progress?
I’ve seen a lot of incredible new platforms pop up that are elevating more (technically) junior but no-less-exceptional talent for us all to learn from. I love that our teachers can come in so many forms these days. I’m always learning from my friends at MAIP, AdColor, and Mekanism’s own Apollo51 initiative, and am constantly impressed by groups like STRTGST, and Where Are The Boss Ladies. The spread of women at last year’s 3% conference, and GirlBoss Rally blew me away.

"Representation" is no longer reserved to the traditional tippy top of the industry, because the industry itself has dimensionalized so beautifully. We’re inspiring each other in ways we weren’t able to ten years ago.  

What else needs to be done to get there? 

We’ve genuinely made some great strides as an industry, but as always, there’s still room to learn and grow. In my mind, this starts with understanding our own limitations - as individuals. We need businesses (across industries) to come together and implement mandatory unconscious bias training. This should happen at every company, at every level, on a regular cadence. All of us are susceptible to the negative constructs and conditioning of the past, and we now have incredible tools to help us overcome them and be better as a collective.

Rather than talking about D&I, we also need to start acting on it as a whole. Our peers are attending more conferences than ever, having more conversations than ever, but the amount of implementation and action doesn’t quite stack up. How can we hold each other accountable for doing more regularly?

Lastly, I believe there’s still room to diversify what it means to be a leader. Leadership doesn’t have prescribe to the top-down, dictatorial, hustle-or-fail mentality that is still rising to the top. Leadership will naturally become richer and more nuanced when we truly embrace diversity at that level, but in the meantime, we need to see new models of leadership. Kind, nurturing, empathetic people, strive for excellence, but not at the expense of people. At the end of the day, our industry is based on talent - and it’s on us to come together in service of that.

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