Are we there yet? iCrossing's Andrew Earley says diversity makes financial sense

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.

Andrew Earley
Director of people and culture and chief of staff

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

At least once a month, I attend a diversity and inclusion summit or workshop on ally-ship. The attendees are a diverse mash-up of individuals with talent-centric roles and the sessions are often led by companies looking to appear leaned-in to progressive culture. Session presenters, however, often find themselves preaching to the choir — and therein lies the problem. The audiences of these sessions feature few to none of the executive leaders who have the ability to actually make drastic organizational change.

As a solutions driven company, iCrossing has empowered me to think about how we can help create positive change, which led to the creation of a speaker series covering all elements of diverse and inclusive culture. If it’s futile to expect change-makers to show up at a summit, we figured that we’d bring the summit direct to our leaders. Past presenters have included TED Talk speakers Arwa Mahdawi and Jennifer Brown.Coming up in November, we’ll be the host sponsor of the Betterman Conference.

An opportunity to address the lag in attendance of industry leaders on topics of diversity and inclusion, Betterman’s goal is eponymous with its name. Using our clued-in leader’s client relationships, we’re looking to change the face of attendance by welcoming both our clients and partners with familiar faces, to help address the larger industry problem.

How about something that proves we’re making progress

We’ve seen the appointment of diversity officers at a number of companies — and not to undercut the brilliant work they’re doing — but progress as an industry is all but stifled. Morality aside, there are more than enough statistics now to make the financial case for a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Thankfully, brands are changing the tide around expectations for diversity and inclusion when it comes to talent. As evidenced by HP, General Mills, Verizon, P&G and a growing list of others who have set forth diversity mandates of their agency partners. Brands holding agencies accountable has been something of a catalyst for agency leaders to take action around how they address talent.

While #MeToo, Times Up and similar movements have rattled the cages, spurring an exodus of depraved characters and poor behavior, the return of purpose-driven business and the need to have a healthy narrative is trickling back into brands. Driven largely by social media, we’re seeing brands publicly take hard positions — like American Airlines refusing to fly children separated from their parents by ICE. As a result, there’s an increasing need for agencies to be in tune with culture both in the market and internally, which requires a smart and diverse workforce. More than being able to gut-check creative projects before they go-to-market, diverse teams enable relevancy and content that resonates in market.

With the current makeup of our industry, we’re likely to see more tone-deaf advertising — a la Dove turning a black woman white or the Pepsi fiasco — before things improve. So, if you’re a brand or agency looking to avoid an embarrassing moment, here are a few names to add to your friends list: HAATBP, MAIP, COOP and Baruch College. They know what’s up.

What else can be done to get there

As an industry, we seem to only make change when our hand is forced or a lawsuit is pending. For example, the government mandate in the U.K. to close the gender pay-gap. It’s unlikely we’ll see an affirmative action mandate come down, though a coalition of brands coming together to set industry talent expectations would be a swift kick in the right direction.

As an operations guy, one way to make change is to partner your D&I lead with your CFO to illustrate the benefit of having a diverse workforce. Once it becomes clear that your company is leaving money on the table or that your incremental quarterly target could have been reached, you’ll have forced leadership’s hand to treat talent with the same regard as client business.

On a more tactical level, agencies can start sending persons other than diversity officers to summits or workshops on diversity and inclusion and ally-ship. Make attendance part of your leadership team’s performance review. If these are your trusted people who manage your increasingly diverse rank and file, it’s in your best interest to have them in touch with the new talent reality.

And for those looking to make changes from the ground up, curb the nepotism. It’s toxic to your business’ health.

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