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If You Want A Diverse Team, Change the Rules

How finding the best talent requires a non-traditional approach

Think back to the first time you met someone who worked in advertising or design. Was it early enough in your life to influence your career path? Or maybe, like me, you grew up miles away from the nearest major market where ad agencies existed.

Being raised outside of an urban city meant having friends with mostly working-class parents. It meant being the first generation of my family to have a chance to attend post-secondary education. It meant feeling the pressure to become something traditional and reliable like a nurse or a teacher, not a creative director or a strategist. This is why whenever I’m involved in conversations about diversity and inclusion, I try not to forget that, for many, the barriers begin early in life.

While it’s positive to see more conversations about building more inclusive environments at agencies, it’s become far too frequent to hear about the "lack of diverse candidates available and applying for jobs" as the excuse for not hiring diverse employees.

But this excuse, I believe, should no longer hold up. Now is the time that we must do what agencies do best: look beyond traditional places and roles to fill the funnel. And if we can’t find diverse candidates in a given category, it’s time to fix the issue by getting to the root of the problem: finding ways to groom talent well before their applications get to human resources.

Perhaps the most vital thing we miss by waiting until the recruitment phase is the reality that a lot of the most talented individuals out there may not have had the exposure, opportunity or the means to pursue pathways that would lead them to agencies in the first place. At best, they may not even realize these jobs exist. At worst, they may have been told that pursuing a "creative" career is pointless or impossible.

But even that in itself does not address the issue of awareness and exposure to the pathways and possibilities within our industry.

So what more can be done right now?

Nurture—it’s a step beyond mentoring
In addition to helping remove financial barriers, agencies should take more of a longview with their recruitment, internship and mentorship initiatives by reaching out to students before post-secondary. At Huge, we’ve partnered with Stoked to teach students in local high schools the principles of brand and design thinking. Alongside Huge employees, groups of students find solutions to a problem in their community and develop a brand to become the vehicle for that solution. The students leave the program with exposure to new ways of thinking and working, and the winning team has an internship at Huge.

Tailor your standards to fit people, not company mandates
The first step should be to remove the requirement of a traditional higher degree in any role where it is not completely necessary. Over my career, some of the most talented people I have met have dropped out of college for financial reasons, or forwent a four-year degree in favor of a faster, cheaper alternative like the increasingly-available bootcamps or online courses. We know that women in particular are less likely to apply for jobs where they do not meet 100% of the requirements, so we need to start asking ourselves whether requiring a degree is really more important than meeting someone that brings a diverse set of experiences and perspectives gained outside of a classroom.

You don’t have to hire the complete package—if you make it your job to complete the package
Investing in our own educational efforts (like Huge Schools) or increasing on-the-job training means more flexibility in who you can hire. If the burden of having every required skill and experience is not always on the applicant, we can prioritize hires based on who adds something new or different to the team versus who fits the strict box we are outlining.

Best of all, we can ensure we’re doing our best to develop the next generation of diverse leaders and role models for future talent to look up to.

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