Are we there yet? Optimist execs on 'checking the box'

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.

Rose Odeh and Claire Lee
CMO and, VP of concept and strategy
Optimist

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

Diversity may have become a hot-button issue for the industry in the last couple years, but there is still very much the perception of "checking the box" when it comes to inclusivity. Which endangers the whole concept by reducing it to a buzzword.

The fact of the matter is, diversity shouldn’t be an afterthought. A lot of brands speak about representation, but the problem isn’t going to be solved through color-blind casting. Because what you get then is tokenism. Think: the WOMEN’s line for any apparel brand, the MULTICULTURAL aisle in the supermarket. Or the PINK aisle for the girls. It’s just lazy work that relies on cliches and stereotypes rather than digging deeper for any real insight.

How about something that proves we're making progress?

The generation coming up now -- the true digital natives -- champion a new way of thinking. One that doesn’t fall into easy binaries like: mainstream or alternative, masculine or feminine. And the fact that they are now coming into their own is forcing all of us as marketers to confront the real issue at hand.

For minority groups in America, discovery of self has often come from identifying with the "other"-- creating a Third Culture.  A culture that fuses the influence of upbringing and personal values with personal inspiration and aspirations. It’s why the most influential creators across disciplines today all tend to be multi-hyphenates -- there’s no clearer expression of diversity of thought.

It’s when Third Culture collides with Third Place that cultural exchange occurs -- and it is only through that honest exchange of values that true progress can be made. That’s why a lot of the work that’s pushing the envelope on diversity is coming from creators that have developed a cult of personality -- who represent something more than a bottom line. See: FENTY or CELINENUNU.

What else needs to be done to get there? 

The reason so much of the creative we see out in the world looks the same stems from it comes from the same type of people. When it comes to the creative we put out into the world, diversity of perspective needs to begin before ideation. It’s about who is in the brainstorms, the meetings. Oftentimes, in the creative industries, we fall into the trap of hiring people who look, think, and sound a certain way -- because our clients are more comfortable with a certain voice. But often it’s out of a clash of perspectives that the most interesting ideas and insights emerge. 

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