Agency DE&I efforts are a marathon, not a sprint

Five helpful tips for agencies starting out on their DE&I journeys.

There’s been an uptick in agency consciousness around our role in social justice. 

But so many are tempted to implement a quick fix — report a few statistics and move on. Sustained change, however, requires participation from every level of the organization, as well as constant listening, learning and accountability.

Earlier this year, we invited our entire staff to join our diversity, equity and inclusion committee. Twenty-three employees proudly jumped in, ready to create change from within. The committee held bi-weekly meetings and communicated through Slack, email and Google Docs to share thoughts and encourage difficult conversations.

We also ran an internal audit to uncover our weaknesses and brainstorm solutions. Then we assigned leaders and teams to each area so we could do more, faster. We share our committee actions with the agency broadly, so everyone is up to date on where we stand. 

Each agency is different, and our weaknesses may be another agency's strengths, or vice versa. We have a ways to go, but here’s what we’ve learned so far. 

1. Understand our role as advertisers 

We have a stake in controlling the cultural narrative, and therefore, a responsibility for the messaging we put out. 

In order to sustain, DE&I efforts must resonate with your actions in the market. As professional storytellers, we’re not doing our jobs well if we’re not telling diverse stories, and that comes down to how we include diverse people in our organizations. 

2. Audit your systems 

Tons of resources can help you analyze your company’s approach to talent — from learning and development, to recruiting, hiring, promotions, benefits and social connections. Rating each aspect tells you where to invest and set short-, mid-, and long-term goals.

A short-term goal could be providing equal access to technology as we work remotely, while a mid-term goal could be reimagining performance reviews, perhaps by encouraging candidates to evaluate their managers, too. Long-term, you can set benchmarks to hire more diverse people in leadership roles. 

It’s important to be flexible with timing. Putting an arbitrary timestamp on these actions could set you up for failure, especially in a tough economic climate. Sharing goals and progress with the entire agency will increase transparency and elicit honest feedback. 

3. Examine recruitment bias

For far too long, agency recruitment has dripped with personal bias. Agencies can avoid this by clearly defining their cultures — and understanding where diversity fits in.

Recruiting candidates that align with that culture helps agencies break through subjectivity. Implement interview processes that focus on behaviors, skills and role responsibilities, while avoiding unconscious bias and fighting the tendency to hire people that look or act like you.

4. Develop guidelines 

Each department at an agency is different, and can benefit from unique guidelines on how to approach diversity. Guidelines can touch on how to use inclusive language in a casting spec sheet, how to approach sensitive conversations with clients or how to vet partners based on their own diversity commitments. 

Lean into your organization for feedback and make ongoing changes. Your guidelines should be living documents that you can share with new clients and new hires alike. Hopefully, we will know even more tomorrow than we do today.

5. Create a safe space while enforcing accountability 

Not everyone is at the same stage in this journey. Encourage your coworkers to learn without shaming them for where they are, but make sure to hold them accountable. 

This can be uncomfortable. But if we shut others down and don’t engage in conversation, then we throw empathy and progress out the window. We don’t know what we don’t know. 

Katie Ramp is director of talent and operations at MUH-TAY-ZIK / HOF-FER

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