Meet Madison Avenue's only male chief diversity officer

TBWA\Chiat\Day's Doug Melville, former male cheerleader and Britney Spears tour manager, on how it feels to be the only man in the room

Doug Melville has held many unusual jobs in his career: Weinermobile driver; assistant tour manager for Britney Spears; founder of; and president of Earvin "Magic" Johnson’s short-lived ad agency, ZMagic.

But on May 1, 2012, he became something truly remarkable: a male chief diversity officer at an advertising agency (TBWA\Chiat\Day NewYork, to be exact). Though the industry began hiring diversity officers around 2006, Melville is the only man currently — and possibly ever — to hold the position. How does that happen? We took a moment to get to know Melville, and his situation, a little better.

Why aren’t there more men in your position?
On the client side there are male chief diversity officers — Twitter, Johnson & Johnson, AirBNB. On the agency side, No. 1, I think the role is a newer one, so in time that will even itself out. No. 2, many times the role was born from HR, and if you look at HR and talent professionals in the Madison Avenue community, I think more of them are women than men, so inherently, if that’s where you’re feeding and sourcing the role, then you’re just going to get more women.

I think it’s something no one really notices. Sometimes I’ll be in a meeting and notice there are no men, but until you emailed me that question I don’t know if I’d ever even realized it.

I did do a Ted talk about being a male cheerleader. When there’s 97% women in your industry, I think there’s a certain point where you don’t even look at it as male or woman, you just keep on going forward and doing what you’re supposed to do.

Read: Deutsch 'no longer going to invest in diversity,' says former head of program

Do you think lack of gender diversity among CDOs at ad agencies negatively affects diversity recruitment efforts?
Now that CDOs are getting the spotlight, there’s a lot of conversation about who’s best for the role. The Harvard Business Review wrote an article about whether it’s better for a white male to be chief diversity officer because they have a better chance to influence the other board members.

But each role of chief diversity officer is different. If you put 10 chief diversity officers in a room, they have 10 different job descriptions, 10 different KPIs, and I think that’s rare among roles that parallel each other at different companies. I think it’s a challenge with how the person was selected and how the gender of that person best fits in the structure of the organization. But I don’t know if it’s happenstance or the pool that’s being drafted off of.

Read: Is it time to give up on on chief diversity officers?

What’s your greatest accomplishment in your role so far?
My proudest accomplishment is what we’ve done in the supplier diversity ecosystem. In the last three years, we’ve spent $125 million with 86 businesses that are owned, operated and controlled by women and diverse entrepreneurs. To me that’s a huge number, because giving opportunities on a B-to-B level to these business owners you used to work in advertising, who maybe used to be freelancers, who used to work within these walls, I think is really, really important.

What is the biggest factor holding the ad industry back from diversifying?
There is an overall movement of change that is happening so fast, and it’s hard for people to change every single part of their day — how the offices are laid out, how the agencies are structured, how clients want to do compensation — there are so many levels of change that people have to deal with on a day-to-day level. I think whose people’s tribes are, who they are most comfortable and familiar with, actually becomes more calcified because of the change that is surrounding them. People are comforted by commonality, but they need to be more challenged, because that’s where they grow.

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