The string of tragic events of 2020 opened many people’s eyes to the lack of diversity, equity and inclusion in the agency workplace.
That feeling extended to agency HR and recruiting execs, who saw an opportunity to coordinate their efforts to tackle the industry’s diversity problem systemically.
On a day in early June, in the midst of ongoing protests and social unrest, Kimberly Easley, who leads creative, brand and executive talent recruitment for Dentsu in the U.S., reached out to a group of agency recruiters to ask who might be interested in pooling their efforts.
“I asked ‘Who wants to just get together, share information and do this as an industry, and not in a silo?’” she said.
Thirty-five people expressed interest, and gathered for their first virtual meeting in June. By July, the group was meeting voluntarily for an hour every Wednesday to hear speakers and presentations designed to educate and inspire, such as a talk with Dentsu chief equity officer Christena Pyle and a lesson on proper LGBTQ+ pronouns.
“Members come out with information, best practices and new knowledge,” Easley said. “We’re all having lightbulb moments.”
By August, the group had an official name: Allies in Recruiting, or AIR, with a mission to champion diverse talent in the advertising and marketing industries. AIR was officially launched with eight founding partners and 28 founding members from the HR and recruiting departments of advertising and marketing agencies, with Easley as founder and president.
“We’re on the front lines of conversation with talent,” Easley said. “We’re focused on making consistent hiring practices within our industry the norm.”
AIR structures its focus areas into pods, spanning interviewing and hiring, education and community outreach, partnerships and events, social media and content strategy and talent development, retention and mentorship. Each pod has a group of people dedicated to advancing diversity and inclusion in that specific area.
On interviewing and hiring, for example, AIR aims to standardize training and development for agency recruiters when it comes to diverse hiring practices and unconscious bias. On education and community outreach, AIR wants to build lasting relationships and a path into the industry for students who may not have the option of going to college.
“Imagine we take a social post seen by millions of people and show [students] all the jobs in advertising they can get from one post — from a copywriter to a motion designer to somebody in legal who created a contract,” said Hillary Black, co-CEO of Kay & Black Talent Management and PerQ Coaching, and head of learning and partnerships at AIR.
On diverse talent retention and development, which agencies in particular struggle with, AIR wants to help recruiters stay connected to diverse hires as they grow in their careers.
“A lot of recruiting ends at onboarding,” Easley said. “But once they’re in, are their managers trained to build an environment where they feel like they belong?”
Today, AIR has 90 active members and more than 125 pledge participants. To join, each member is certified by Equify, a diversity, equity and inclusion training program created by Mother chief talent officer James Nicholas Kinney, who is also AIR’s head of policy and advocacy.
As the group grows, it’s seeking sponsors to help it support talent development through events, panels, award shows and even financial aid and scholarships for students. AIR also continues to collect resources and information on its website, including 55 different diverse hiring job boards.
At the end of the day, shared knowledge and education for recruiters remain core to AIR’s mission.
“It’s really altruism at its finest,” Easley said. “People are looking to become more educated because they're realizing there's a lot to learn.”
AIR Founding Partners
Kim Easley, dentsu / AIR Founder + President
Ayana Picariello, Havas / AIR Mentorship + Talent Development
Hillary Black, Kay & Black, PerQ Coaching / AIR Learning + Partnerships
James Nicholas Kinney, Mother / AIR Policy + Advocacy
Leslie Kay, Kay & Black, PerQ Coaching / AIR FInance
Lionel Carreon, TBWA Worldwide / AIR Brand Strategy
Michele Daly, Ogilvy / AIR Operations + Community
Tammy Skuraton, Independent / AIR Business Development + Partnerships