Are we there yet? Carlin Dixon hails Adcolor Futures as key to greater diversity

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.

Carlin Dixon
Account planner and member of the 2018 class for ADCOLOR Futures
Marcus Thomas

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

I want to feel good that John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John’s and Amy Powell, president of Paramount, were fired for allegedly making racist comments. Finally, some consequences. But I know that these moments often are not isolated incidents, and the industry must stop treating them as if they are.

Schnatter and Powell have been leading these organizations for years. These probably aren’t the first racist comments they’ve made. People at the top -- CEOs and presidents -- are responsible for setting the cultural landscape for the company.  

So, it’s pretty clear that there’s a lot of damage to be undone in these companies. The firings are only a small step because culture is pervasive.

I worry, too, about my own industry -- advertising. There seems to be a lot of focus on diversity, but not as much on inclusion or equity. It starts at the top, and there are not a lot of people who look like me up there.

How about something that proves we’re making progress?

I work at a mid-sized agency in Cleveland, Ohio. When I walked in almost two years ago I was maybe one of five minorities who worked on the work. Now, a year later, because of the efforts of our "Culture and Inclusion" team, we’ve been able to significantly grow those numbers to 11 or more -- that’s an increase of more than 100 percent. If a mid-sized agency in Cleveland is making this kind of progress, then I have hope for our industry as a whole.

Real progress begins with creating opportunities for entrance and retention for those who have been historically underrepresented in this industry. As new folks with diverse perspectives remain in the industry and advance through the ranks, cultures begin to change. Equity transfer takes place -but how do we do that?

Programs like The Marcus Graham Project, MAIP and ADCOLOR FUTURES make a big difference. As someone who had their first experience in this industry with one of the MGP’s boot camps, it made a difference for me to be able to see that level of representation, to develop a sense of belonging early in my career and to have a network of people who understand the struggles I face in this industry. Representation matters. It’s pivotal for the industry to continue to commit and support programs that promote both entrance and retention for minorities in this industry. The next generation needs to know that they have a home in our field.  

What else needs to be done to get there?

Did you develop a business case for hiring your neighbor’s niece as an assistant AE? No, so why do you need to develop a business case for recruiting more diverse employees with more diverse perspectives?  

I think the industry needs to understand that diversity isn’t a plague, but an opportunity to connect with people by understanding their real experiences. More women and people of color, but also those that identify as LGBTQ+ or outside of traditional gender orientation, as well as those who are differently abled -- we need them all if we are to create work that is truly representative and resonates with those we’re attempting to connect with. "General Market" has changed since the Mad Men era and will only continue to evolve. Without acknowledging the changes being faced, the industry is preparing for its own planned obsolescence.

The industry must continue to support organizations like ADCOLOR Futures, the Marcus Graham Project and MAIP because representation matters. By empowering the next generation of diverse talent, we can make progress towards a better industry.


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