Are we there yet? Hill Holliday's Julianna Akuamoah on accelerating pace

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.

Julianna Akuamoah
SVP, diversity and talent manager
Hill Holliday

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

The challenge that still remains, for those striving to make an impact, are the subtle ways in which leaders across many organizations continue to cling onto the status quo. 

It sounds like: "That’s a really good idea, but I worry that this isn’t the right time to start an initiative like this, maybe we focus on that later on." It sounds like: "I think we should continue the program we have for this upcoming season and then look at how to change it up for the next round." It sounds like: "We have a lot of priorities that we’re asking people to focus on, let’s not overwhelm them and hold off until we get through this project." It sounds like: "That seems like a pretty heavy lift. I think even if we make baby steps, we’re at least doing something."

Those statements don’t sound like resistance, but they are. They communicate that the comfort of the status quo is preferred over the challenge of creating new behaviors that support change and progress. These statements communicate that diversity inclusion is not a business priority.

If we are waiting for perfect timing, waiting for a client to be perfectly open and receptive to an idea or waiting for the workload to lighten before swinging hard at a new D&I program, our progress will continue at the same pace we’re seeing now, which is unbearably slow. We will never use the creative muscle that is flexed when we collaborate inclusively, encouraging new approaches to "the big ideas." We need to exercise that muscle.

Our business will always make us feel too busy to change and disrupt. But are we too busy to focus on great creative work and experiences? Are we too busy to focus on profitability? We would never say we’re too busy for those business objectives.  

If we want to see real change we must commit to diversity and inclusion as a business imperative. When we set our business objectives related to our creative product and or financial goals, we do so with understood commitment and energy. We need to keep that same energy when we talk about our culture, diversity and inclusion in our workplaces.  

How about something that proves we’re making progress?

The social activism that we’re seeing across the country related to women’s rights and support for other underrepresented groups is encouraging bravery. It’s made room for national dialogue and it’s given people a platform to get behind that supports progressive thinking and approaches that create more inclusive workplaces.

People in our industry are using their voices. They’re making much needed noise in environments where diverse perspectives have been silenced for too long. I’m seeing more and more people hired as diversity experts to consult with c-suite leadership or be on staff to help organizations strategize about the best ways to support diverse populations.

Companies are sharing best practices and resisting the urge to hold great ideas close to the vest. Leaders are being more honest that they don’t know everything and are acknowledging that partnership can be better than struggling towards progress alone. At Hill Holliday, we recently partnered with our sister agency, MullenLowe, to highlight the story of a woman with Asperger’s as she explored employment opportunities. Unemployment rates for the neurodiverse community is nearly 80 percent. They are the most unemployed underrepresented group.

We’ve offered her an in depth mentorship experience and as much as she is learning about how to navigate this industry, we are learning from her about the value of neurodiversity in the workplace. We all win when we reach towards inclusivity. My goal is to help people understand that concept, deeply.

What else needs to be done to get there?

We need everyone to take responsibility for their own education about diversity and inclusion. All I’ve ever heard growing up, related to race relations in this country is that we "need to talk more." I agree with that, but I would elaborate and add that we need to understand more. In this climate of heightened tensions related to diversity our conversations are difficult because in many cases we’re not even speaking the same language because not all of us have done the work to learn more about the topic.

We need to encourage learning and understanding about the business case for diversity and inclusion. We need more curiosity about the current state of diversity in the workplace and our role in making progress. We need everyone to take it upon themselves to explore that curiosity for themselves. Bring something to the table in the conversation about diversity and inclusion. This would give us all the ability to have conversations built on a foundation of basic understanding of the case for diversity and inclusion the and the need to push for progress.

Here’s a great place to start: Check out one of the best resources available that demonstrates the business case for diversity: Why Diversity Matters by McKinsey. Once you’ve checked that out, type this into your Google search: "What are the biggest challenges facing the [insert underrepresented group here] community in the workplace?"

Explore, learn and dive into understanding.

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