Are we there yet? Carat USA's Danielle Hemsley on admitting inherent biases

Every week, we ask industry insiders across all job levels and titles to share personal stories about equality, diversity and inclusion in adland. We know we're not there yet, but we want to document the highs and lows as the industry slowly transforms for the better.

Danielle Hemsley
Director of insights
Carat USA

Tell us about one thing that’s happened recently that leads you to believe there’s still a problem.  

A couple of things come to mind that have to do with both language and process. Language is very powerful. In a recent presentation, I heard a very senior man (whom is a big supporter of diversity) say "they made the brave choice of choosing a woman to be their CEO." Describing this choice as brave undermines the idea that more CEOs should be women and it should not need to be considered brave to appoint a woman as your CEO.  

Other things that come to mind are meetings that we sit in where we are discussing an AfAm or LatinX target among a non-diverse group in the room. Luckily at Dentsu Aegis Network, we have a sister agency, Gravity, that specializes in marketing in a multicultural world who we can lean on for expertise.

In addition, as a researcher, demographic questions are not caught up to the diversity within our world. Gender is still asked with only two choices and race and ethnicity questions have their limitations as well. If a survey does venture into sexual orientation, transgender is often lumped into sexual orientation as opposed to gender identity.    

How about something that proves we’re making progress?

We have the ability to influence cultural norms and attitudes as marketers. The changing faces of advertisements really show that we are starting to make progress.

Recently, I worked on a study, Same Planet, Different Worlds, where we looked at how brands can be more involved in causes, while balancing both brand purpose and business objectives in a world that is becoming increasingly polarized. When we were looking for case studies to include as examples, it blew me away to see the tremendous amounts of examples that exist. Take the Microsoft Surface Ad where the actress Courtney Quinn, is an entrepreneur and blogger who is a woman of color and not a size two. This ad was featured on the #SeeHer website which recently developed the GEM index, which is four questions that marketers can add to their copy testing to ensure their advertisements are portraying women in meaningful ways.  

Additionally, thought leaders like Annie Pettit are challenging the industry to have gender equity on all panels and calling out large conferences that don’t.

What else needs to be done to get there?

We need to continue to hire and promote diverse work forces and encourage diverse attitudes. This should begin at entry level and even earlier. Programs can be crafted to work with high schoolers and recruit on a diverse range of college campuses. For instance, Carat participated in an internship program with the Children’s Aid Society in which they would send a high school intern from an economically challenged background for a summer internship. Our industry needs more programs and opportunities such as these; where we are inspiring people from all different backgrounds to build careers in advertising. And companies learn a lot, too.

We need to be vulnerable and willing to admit that we all have our own inherent biases and it is important that we ask experts, such as Gravity and #SeeHer, for continuous learning and development opportunities.

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