'Companies hire for diversity and beat it out of them': Challenge culture to fix inclusivity

Talent agency says company emphasis on unique culture gets in way of inclusivity as ANA publishes report on broken diversity model.

Companies must challenge their own culture to fix the disconnect in diversity efforts, a leading recruitment agency has stressed.

It comes as a new Association of National Advertisers (ANA) study revealed that recruiting and retaining racially-diverse talent continues to vex marketers due to a breakdown between the resources being invested in initiatives and a lack of inclusiveness felt by diverse workers.

"Companies often hire for diversity and beat it out of them," said Debra Sercy, joint-CEO at Grace Blue, who leads the agency’s diversification efforts. She spoke to diversity in the wider sense that includes other important factors like age, gender and faith.   

"A company’s emphasis on its unique culture can get in the way of inclusivity. They hire for diversity and celebrate diversity during the recruitment process, but once someone comes into the company they will often try to assimilate that candidate into their own culture. They beat out the diversity. Therefore, some of the differences for which this person was hired are no longer seen or valued."

The report, published today, found three underrepresented populations in the advertising, marketing, and media industries: African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans.

When interviewed for the study, a group of racially-diverse new hires and students indicated that breaking into the marketing industry and staying in the business is incredibly difficult.

They identified four key factors: a management disconnect in which new hires appreciate being provided with opportunities, but workplace relationships are still not optimal; microaggressions in which co-workers engage in offensive behaviors that leave the respondents feeling uncomfortable, disrespected, and helpless to address such behavior; a cultural illiteracy whereby a lack of cultural understanding make them feel on edge and; workplace integration dissonance -- meaning many new hires feel uncomfortable starting conversations around diversity due to a perceived risk of losing their jobs.

"In six-and-a-half years, I have never had one single client pass up the right candidate to get a diverse candidate," explained Sercy.

"Clients genuinely want diverse points of view -- they do not want to just fill out a scorecard and say how many African-Americans and females they’ve hired. They will always do what’s in the best interests of the business, and often that is a diverse candidate -- of all sorts."

Sercy stressed that companies "must change the culture and not the person," highlighting the high exit rate among new employees.

She believes marketers should be using their own skills to target a very underrepresented area for future talent -- high schoolers, or any young person who doesn’t know that their creative passion can actually be commercialized.

"If more companies focused on marketing to that group, you will change the future of the industry," Sercy added.

The ANA report, which was based on 120 interviews with key stakeholders in the advertising and marketing industries conducted between April and October of last year, echoes Glace Blue’s recommendations. It urges marketers to follow guidelines set forth by the Talent Forward Alliance to help them attain progress in attracting diverse people.

Created in 2018, the alliance is a cross-industry initiative committed to inspiring and accelerating the development of exceptional talent to fuel marketing industry growth. It is designed to create a unified movement to elevate the industry as a career profession on university campuses.

"Talent development does not rest on the shoulders of just the human resources department," said Elliot Lum, ANA Educational Foundation SVP of talent strategy and program initiatives. "It’s a shared and coordinated responsibility across HR, marketing, advertising, and diversity leaders to enable and empower talent to drive growth for their organizations."

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