Are we there yet? Deutsch's Marieme Sall praises Diet Madison Avenue

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.

Marieme Sall
Associate producer

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

Walk into just about any advertising agency today, survey the demographic of its employees, and I’m sure it would be evident that there’s still a problem of diversity and inclusion in this industry. This issue speaks not only to race, but also to gender, and sexuality. When looking at the higher management levels especially, we often find that most of the folks in leading positions across the agencies are white men.

Thankfully, we’re seeing more and more women enter C-suite positions and other leading positions across agencies. In fact, the agency that I work at, Deutsch, has had a woman CEO for the last ten years, well before most agencies had women in that position. The female leadership at Deutsch, in both the LA and NY offices was a significant reason why the agency was so appealing to me. Nonetheless, we’re still not seeing enough people of color. It isn’t enough to stop at gender diversity if we want to strive for true representation and inclusion. Diverse voices and experiences only make an agency stronger and more appealing on all fronts.

The rise of Diet Madison Avenue on social media has also highlighted the issue of sexual harassment in the industry. This is an issue that is tough for many survivors to speak out about, and often times agencies will try to cover up incidents related to sexual misconduct in order to protect their image. Diet Madison Avenue came out in an unapologetic, in-your-face way to let everyone know that one: just because we’re not hearing about these issues in the press, doesn’t mean they’re not happening, and two: if agencies aren’t going to speak up about these issues, we will. Regardless of how you feel about Diet Madison Avenue and their approach, we can’t deny that they’re forcing a conversation that seems to have been avoided for years.  

How about something that proves we’re making progress?

I’ve been seeing a lot of initiatives taken to address issues around diversity, inclusion, and representation. Last year, IPG hosted its first ever panel on black women in advertising, which I was lucky to have been able to attend. Currently, there’s "Time’s Up Advertising," there’s "Nevertheless," there’s Diet Madison Avenue. I consider myself lucky to have not experienced the "Mad Men" culture of ad industry, where the boys club lead, and it’s nothing but white men in charge, but it’s evident that many of the same issues from the earlier advertising days are still embedded in our industry culture today. What’s different is that now, the people who have historically not been given the platforms to speak out about these issues, and those who have been on the receiving end of the negative effects of a homogenous work demographic, are coming together and forming a powerful collective voice.

I feel very fortunate to be at an agency where we have our own diversity and inclusion group, called beyond, that is actively working to improve the culture and make all of its employees feel that they are represented in all that we do here by pushing beyond boundaries, beyond hate, beyond labels, and beyond pre-determined norms. A recent beyond effort for Black History Month included an art gallery styled Afrofuturism happy hour featuring printed artworks which explored themes of blackness and understanding black history in order to imagine and reimagine the future for black communities, and a live musical performance by NYC-based artist, Mari. And our "Asian-American-ish" panel set the stage for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. To start the dialogue, a panel of Deutschers openly discussed their personal and cultural AAPI experiences, and representation in the media. Every agency should have a group dedicated to driving this dialogue and promoting action.  

What else needs to be done to get there?

Awareness is an important starting point, but action is imperative. We need leaders in the industry to work with their agencies to put plans into action that will result in tangible change. As a young producer who has only been in this industry for two years, I’m often told that things are much better than they used to be in terms of diversity and inclusion. That’s fine, and I would be shocked and disappointed if things were worse than they were -- but being better than things were 15 years ago or even five years ago isn’t enough to feel satisfied with where we are now. An easy place to start is with new hires.

People in positions to recruit and hire need to make a conscious effort to look for talent in new places rather than rummaging through the same networks that they’re familiar and comfortable with. Put in the little extra effort to see who’s out there and trust that there are highly qualified people who simply do not have someone to open a door for them into this industry. We’re living in the most digitally-connected time in our history, so I find the excuse that someone "can’t find diverse talent" to be complete nonsense. Stumbling across new great talent is a matter of a few clicks or scrolls or swipes online. 

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