Diversity is a strange and enigmatic thing. It takes on a different meaning to everyone, and in the midst of the advertising industry clawing to have diversity at its core, its meaning has become even more convoluted and conflated. In advertising, diversity has gone from referring to African American or racial minorities, to an urban populous, to now simply meaning diversity of experience.
But for all this talk and implementation of diversity initiatives, we have little to show for our efforts. A quick Google image search for "Black Creative Directors" pulls up more photos of white creative directors in black T-shirts than it does African American CDs. This may be a non-scientific way of looking at the disparity, but it speaks volumes to how much progress we have yet to make.
Minorities in the industry are sometimes timid about speaking up about the lack of representation, and understandably so. By putting your voice behind the cause, you’re branding yourself as the "diversity" person, which is most likely not the title you set out to have when you got into the creative business. It’s an unfortunate reality that we still need initiatives and champions for the issue, but it’s a fact we need to face head-on if we’re going to make any progress.
Women are fighting the fight with real results. Conferences like 3% have done a great job at turning talk into action. I had the opportunity to speak there this year, where they had the proof points to show how they’ve made a difference. To begin the event, they asked everyone with a pink post-it to stand up, representing the recognizable 3%, the percentage of women creative directors that were in the industry when 3% began four years ago. Then, they asked everyone with a blue post-it to stand up. A significantly bigger group rose. This group represented the current percentage of women creative directors in the industry today, 11%. No, that number isn’t where it needs to be, but it shows that The 3% Conference has helped move the needle to accomplish tangible goals.
But now it’s time to hold the entire industry accountable for the lack of Women, African Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, LGBTQ and all minorities. Diversity initiatives like MAIP are a good start, but we need to be brave enough to face the numbers. For those 11% of women creative directors, how many are African American? I’d wager it’s only a tiny fraction of that number, but we seldom hear about that. We need more people who are willing to speak out about these issues and look beyond the echo chamber of minorities talking to minorities.
If we do this right and start holding ourselves accountable in this way, we’ll do away with the need to have diversity initiatives or champions of the subject altogether. Once we’ve done that, we can all get working on some kick-ass creative and truly make this industry the best it can be, with opinions of all types organically making their way to the top.
—Vann Graves is founder and chief creative officer of FL+G.