Diversity in action: How to create an inclusive culture

SapientNitro's global chief creative officer gives real-world solutions for fostering diversity

Leading up to Advertising Week New York, I asked my team what panels and events they were most looking forward to. While many said they planned to attend "Storytelling in the age of Snapchat," or were excited by the star power of Drew Barrymore, The Roots and Arianna Huffington, far more mentioned a topic that hits a little closer to home: diversity.

In recent months, this issue has been in the spotlight for our industry. Brands like HP and General Mills have challenged their agencies to ensure their workforce is diverse and Advertising Week has an impressive seven diversity-themed panels or events on the docket this year. We all agree that this topic is not only worth talking about, but also taking clear and deliberate action to address.

However, before we try to solve advertising’s diversity challenge, it’s important to clarify just what that terms means. At SapientNitro, and at many other agencies and brands, diversity is not quotas, targets or numbers. It’s not about having more representation of one group or replacing one voice with another. Diversity is about inclusivity. It’s a challenge to each and every member of our industry to make a conscious effort to not only accept our differences, but celebrate them. Because it is through our differences in experience that we have a real opportunity to make our work better and our lives richer.

With that in mind, I offer a few real-world solutions for fostering diversity that I will be discussing tomorrow at Advertising Week:

Approach diversity like a business initiative. Diversity of thought has a powerful impact on our business. Having a vast array of cultural experiences, ages, genders, religions, sexual orientations and lifestyles gives us the insights and the skills to evolve alongside the massive demographic, technological and social shifts that we'll see in the coming decades. And diversity of thought can help guard against groupthink, increase the scale of new insights, can help organize the right group of people to tackle new and complex problems and leads to better work overall. Given the critical nature of diversity for our business, it’s important for leaders to approach this challenge with the same rigor as we would for client engagements. Efforts should be aligned to a clear and consistent mission and vision, and results should be measurable. This work is important to our future success – and therefore worthy of our investment today.

Do something. Talk is good—but action is better. At SapientNitro we take a multifaceted approach to diversity that allows for grassroots, employee driven initiatives, and a culture and engagement team that focuses on fostering and cultivating our values. We also have a variety of formal programs like Career Returns, to help on-ramp people who have taken an extended break from the workforce, experiential unconscious bias workshops, and high-potential development programs focused on women. While we don’t propose every organization mirror our efforts, we believe it’s important for all members of our industry to help solve this issue. Our impact is stronger—and our progress quicker—when we tackle this challenge together. 

Empower others. Diversity does not begin and end with the executive committee. It is a challenge that should be embraced and owned by every member of the organization. But it is the duty of leadership to empower their people to effect change. As the executive sponsor and founder of Potential Realized in Diverse Experiences (PRIDE) at SapientNitro, for example, my approach to work is to encourage people to bring their full, authentic selves to a project—and in turn bring more innovation and technological expertise to our clients. While I’m very proud of my role in this group, I would like to emphasize that I’m merely one representative … there are many more. By empowering others to join me in championing diversity, this issue becomes top of mind for many.

As an industry, we have work to do in this area, and we’re looking at ways to move the needle collectively. But the truth is, real and lasting change is often not just the result of programs, but of a person. We’re challenging ourselves and everyone we touch in our industry, because taken together, these individual commitments can create a huge collective impact. 

Donald Chesnut is SapientNitro’s global chief creative officer. His panel, Creative Diversity Hacks: Real-world solutions for diversifying your staff that can be implemented today, will be moderated by Campaign US Editor-in-Chief Douglas Quenqua and held on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 4:15 at Nasdaq MarketSite. 



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