​​More talk, more action

Simon Fenwick, EVP talent equity and inclusion, 4As
Simon Fenwick, EVP talent equity and inclusion, 4As

Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is a business imperative.

This fall, the 4A’s hosted our second annual Equity & Inclusion Congress, inviting agency and brand leaders to convene and reflect on the progress we’ve made against commitments to drive change.  

As a new focus on systemic racism in the workplace surged in 2020, tangible traction on DE&I initiatives became a top priority in marketing and advertising. This year, the Congress set out to collect and share the latest diversity data and discuss how the industry is sustaining accountability. 

As revealed in this year’s data, progress is happening – but slowly. The data showed minor improvements in terms of tenure, ethnicity, race and gender. We saw employees with one to two and two to four years of tenure increase, as well as employees with six to 10 years and 10-plus years of tenure grow by 1.2% and 1.4%, respectively. Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx populations grew slightly across the industry as well.

But my larger reflections are about how we are more broady making headway on DE&I resources and investments, as well as the intentionality behind these initiatives. 

While conversations between diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) professionals and their HR peers were fruitful, it did feel at times like we were speaking in an echo chamber. Unfortunately, attendance was reduced this year, and the lack of executive leadership was notable. That, in my opinion, likely impeded the overall progress made over the past 12 months.  

As we all know, DEIB leaders can’t do it alone. We need business leaders to remain focused on making changes and following through on commitments. If they don’t, the authenticity of our industry’s commitments are questionable. Leaders from all roles must join the conversation and understand the multi-layered need to treat DEIB advancement as a top business priority. 

It is time to stop promoting the business case for improving DEIB and start prioritizing recruitment and retention among the people who make the work happen. 

There remains a clear need for collaboration among our teams and across agencies to stop talking about increasing DE&I numbers in the context of ROI. Today’s talent continues to cite DE&I as a top factor when choosing and remaining with an employer. Therefore, disrupting current norms could shore up an agency’s future.  

The Great Resignation will not last, but it will leave an indelible mark on the industry and society if we don’t change our retention efforts. We must push beyond superficial solutions like happy hours. An era of Great Retention could be near, with flexibility as the new currency. We need to rebuild solid structural workplaces by disrupting policies that need to change. 

As I reflect on 2021 and look to 2022 with mild optimism, I encourage leaders to take these four actions:

1. Don’t ask or expect the person you hired into a DEIB role to do all the work.

2. Be bold in your actions. Feel uncomfortable in yourself and with those around you.

3. Invest, invest, invest. Increase whatever budget you allocated in 2021 to DEIB next year, and increase it again in 2023. DEIB budgets are as important as any investment.

4. Be authentic. Stop making commitments you can’t or have no intention of delivering on.

We must continue to support DE&I leaders in the collective effort to make our industry inclusive for everyone. This responsibility does not fall on their shoulders alone. Invite open discourse with colleagues on how to improve current practices. There is only traction to be gained by just starting.

Simon Fenwick is EVP, talent equity and inclusion at the 4As.


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