Are we there yet? Feh Tarty says diversity differs from inclusion

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.

Feh Tarty
Chief Creative Officer
SS+K

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

I recently visited the Whitney Museum’s "An Incomplete History of Protest" exhibition. What caught my attention was a section featuring the Whitney’s admission of discrimination against black artists from 1960 to 1971. This eventually led to a boycott where 15 of 75 black artists withdrew their work from the 1971 Whitney exhibition, "Contemporary Black Artists in America." The museum had reneged on an agreement to have the work selected with the assistance of a black art specialist "whose wisdom, strength, and depth of sensitivity regarding black art is drawn from the well of his own black experience." These black artists were fully aware of the direct impact exposure from the Whitney would have on their careers. However, the importance they placed on representation for authentic appreciation was worth passing on that opportunity -- and it is something the museum vividly acknowledges today by featuring this narrative in its current exhibition.

This reminded me of something I’ve felt in advertising throughout my career, and it allowed me to empathize with these artists. When ideas are at the mercy of a homogeneous group of people who share similar points of reference, humor and life experiences, it’s difficult to appreciate something completely different. As a young creative with an alternative view of the world, portrayals of cultural insights I was certain would have traction fell flat at times. Rather than boycott, I punked out and assimilated in order to get work through. I may have physically represented diversity, but I didn’t always experience the inclusion part -- which is how we all truly benefit from diversity.


How about something that proves we’re making progress?

It’s too lazy to say that my current position is an example of progress because I’m part of a very tiny minority -- and the same can be said for every other minority group fighting for a seat at that big table. So there’s a lot of work to do on that front. However, where I do see a little bit of progress is more and more major companies are investing in making diversity and inclusion their way forward -- not only for altruistic reasons, but for "great-for-business" reasons. It makes their overall product better.


What else needs to be done to get there?

There are many people out there far smarter than me on this issue, but here’s a quick pass on what I do know. As a company, it’s nearly impossible to get there without some help. Third party diversity and inclusion advisors can be an enlightening guide to better understanding and action.

As leaders within the organization, shifting the recruitment pipeline and seeking individuals outside reference networks opens up doors for newer and unique voices. As individuals, we have to step out of our comfort zones. Make it a point to socialize with folks we rarely speak to in our offices. I find that everyone is interesting once I’m asking the right questions. And it’s okay to be the minority in a group sometimes, because underneath it all, we’re just people.

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