Are we there yet? Madwell's Chris Sojka stresses diversity starts at school

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.

Chris Sojka
Chief creative officer

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

More and more of our clients are requesting continuous diversity reporting on our team in general and on the staffing of their accounts specifically. But to my surprise, one particular stat has set off some of their fake news sensors: that over 60 percent of our director-level folks are women. A few clients even asked us to double check that we input the information correctly. We replied with a breakdown of names and titles.

While I'm very proud of that metric (it feels like an appropriate male-to-female ratio for any agency, really), gender balance is just one part of the puzzle. We still have much work to do as a company to become more diverse and representative, and we're clearly not alone. But the assumption that we were misreporting, essentially saying it wasn’t plausible that women make up so much of our management team, was a potent reminder that as an industry, we have a long way to go. Unfortunately, the plausibility bar is likely even lower when you start layering in other factors like ethnicity, sexual orientation, and age.

How about something that proves we’re making progress?

Ironically, the very same series of interactions. In this business we serve at the pleasure of our clients, every single one of us. So when our clients take diversity seriously enough to not just insist on reporting, but to pressure test and talk about it, it holds all of us accountable. It means this is a lot more than lip service. As an increasing number of companies start demanding more diverse teams from their agency roster, and not just in a bureaucratic checkbox sense, agencies will evolve to become more diverse, more representative, and ultimately, more effective because of it.

What else needs to be done to get there?

We all know there's a problem (that's why this column exists), but a diverse talent pool cannot be built via recruiters or conferences or networking or good intentions alone. It begins sooner, in school, with every new generation of designers and copywriters and strategists and technologists and so on. The more diversity we foster in the future talent pool, the more diverse our future agency makeup can be.

But impacting education in such a material way requires teamwork, something greater than the sum of our individual diversity programs and targets. Imagine if a group of agencies, big and small, formed a true non-profit underwritten by all of us. An institution with its own leadership and governing board, focused on building a more diverse industry through scholarships, lobbying, co-curriculum development with universities, and more. That could be a long-term foundation for adland sea change.


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