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Why diversity means change, belonging... and profit

Smalls-Landau..."Belonging is about establishing an environment that gives everyone a seat at the table"
Smalls-Landau..."Belonging is about establishing an environment that gives everyone a seat at the table"

Deidre Smalls-Landau, global chief cross-cultural officer at UM Worldwide and EVP, managing director at IDENTITY on how to stop diversity from failing

"Hire more women."
"Hire more Black and Brown people."
"Take an ad out at NYC Pride." 

Some organizations follow a haphazard checklist for diversity then wonder why their efforts produced no tangible results – goals aren’t met, projects are stagnant and the halls look the same as ever. 

That’s because true diversity reflects meaningful change, transformation that occurs at all levels of an organization, using the efforts of employees up and down the corporate ladder. True diversity is a significant aspect of a company’s culture, the subject of consistent executive discourse and planning, and is directly tied to business goals. With true diversity, there’s a widespread understanding that creating a diverse workforce isn’t just about doing the right thing, it has an undeniable impact on the bottom line. 

In the McKinsey report "Delivering Through Diversity," researchers said that companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams are 33% more likely to outperform their peers in terms of profitability. Despite that, Blacks and Latinos each hold a paltry 4% of senior executive positions nationwide, and Asian-Americans comprise only 5%. These stats are particularly worrisome in the advertising industry, since we are charged with connecting to people from all walks of life. Our world is shifting and moving at a pace where by 2040, today’s ethnic minorities in the United States will be the majority of the population. How can we connect powerfully with different audiences of that magnitude if we don’t have that diversity ourselves, at all levels? 

To market efficiently and effectively to that changing world, agencies have to shift their diversity efforts from the idea of creating inclusion to creating belonging. Inclusion is merely the addition of something. Belonging is about establishing an environment that gives everyone a seat at the table. Inclusion looks like representation. Belonging is representation. Creating a culture of belonging says: "We don’t just see you. We are listening to you. We are considering your words and experiences. We value your contribution to our company, our clients, and the world."

One of UM’s diversity programs, B.R.I.D.G.E. ("Better Results Include Diverse Group Experiences"), matches individuals in the agency with opportunities to consult on projects that can benefit from their cultural insights. The program ensures that client projects are infused with knowledge from the communities they are serving, and that people feel valued for the contribution they are inspired to make because of their differences, not in spite of them. Employees enjoy participating in B.R.I.D.G.E. because it embraces what people from all backgrounds can bring to the table. They get to work with new colleagues and gain experience in areas they might not normally be involved in. The experience strengthens their sense of belonging because they walk away knowing that they have made a measurable impact.    

A workplace environment that represents diversity in race, ethnicity, gender and culture, and embraces and empowers varied groups, fuels connectedness to the rest of society. As media architects of the human experience, we are responsible for where, when and how a consumer connects with a brand. We acknowledge the inherent value of a diverse workforce as it enables us to create better community, better science, better art and better business outcomes.

In recent years we’ve implemented programs to help balance gender inequality, though it’s always a work in progress. Lately, we’ve turned the discussion towards putting in a plan of action that also increases our ethnic diversity across the board.

To that effect, UM recently launched Unity 20/40, an initiative that aims to make our workforce mirror the projected US ethnic population of the year 2040, by the year 2020. It is an ambitious goal but we also know that as leaders of the industry, we have a responsibility to reach high. It’s an opportunity to unite towards an objective that even just striving for makes us stronger and more productive. We are true believers – we know that diversity of thinking is represented in different ethnicities, genders, lifestyles. Everyday is a new conversation about making sure that we have the right talent, the right tools, the right system in place to match where the marketplace is going.   

We’ll know we have succeeded with Unity 20/40 when any employee can walk into any of our buildings and feel as if there is nothing they can’t do, no idea that they can’t present and make happen. It’s a daunting task, but one that is worth the effort. At best, the pillars and strategies we are putting in place to bring our vision to fruition will be a resounding success. At worst, in 2020 we will all be even better storytellers, thanks to an even more authentic connectedness to diverse cultures. We like our odds.

This article is brought to you as part of a wider content series around our Female Frontier awards. To find out more about the awards, visit our dedicated hub.

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