Are we there yet? We Are Unlimited's Otto Linwood III speaks up

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.

Otto Linwood III
Senior integrated producer
We Are Unlimited

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

From my vantage point, there are multiple "one things" that happen each and every day that scream there is still a problem. From #MeToo and Time’s Up, to nationwide marches for gender and racial equality and pay, problems abound in our world. The advertising, media and entertainment industries are a microcosm of all these issues, and the first step in solving a problem is to recognize one exists.

An art director friend of mine at another agency recently posted the following status to Facebook: "There’s nothing like walking into a conference room of 30 people and realizing you’re THE ONLY black person in the room to remind you of the lack of diversity (specifically African American representation) in the ad industry."

That is a problem. In the past 10 years, I cannot count the number of times this exact situation has happened to me and this same thought crossed my mind. I fully understand engaging multicultural agencies/team members when targeting a certain segment or building on a specific insight, but ideally shouldn’t every agency have diverse creatives, strategists, and account teams? The general market consumer IS diverse and inclusive, so shouldn’t our industry approach be reflective of that? That diversity can come from race, sex, gender identification, or otherwise, but how are we providing forward thinking and pushing the world forward if we’re still operating the same way we always have?

Although women and minorities have made major strides in having a seat at the table, we’re still nowhere close to where we need to be, and comments like the one from my friend above prove just that.

How about something that proves we’re making progress?

Two specific examples immediately come to mind from my most recent work on McDonald’s: brands hiring minorities in senior level decision-making positions, and highlighting women (and specifically women of color) during our International Women’s Day campaign.

This year, McDonald’s USA hired Kenny Mitchell as VP of brand content and engagement, and Lizette Williams as head of cultural engagement. While they were clearly hired for their exemplary skill-sets and abilities, to me, these hires at a major corporation such as McDonald’s were a symbol of progress in an evolving and competitive ad landscape.

For International Women’s Day, McDonald’s partnered with my agency, We Are Unlimited, in flipping its golden arches from a "M" to a "W" in celebration of women’s impact on not only McDonald’s but the world. In addition to physically flipping the logo on packaging, uniforms, and menu boards at 100 female-owned and operated stores, the flip was also made on the brand’s social media channels and a hero sign at one store. The Unlimited team also created a short film about the owner of the aforementioned store, Patricia Williams, an African-American woman who owns 18 McDonald’s locations across Los Angeles, with her two daughters, Nicole and Kerri.

The fact that a global brand such as McDonald’s went to these lengths to not only honor women, but also to feature an African American woman who has made a positive impact in her community, gives me hope that brands and agencies will continue recognizing and honoring contributions of women and people of color.

What else needs to be done to get there?

Across the board, we should evaluate how we’re scouting, approaching, hiring, and retaining talent. Are you trying to meet a quota? Are you trying to keep folks off your back? Or are you doing your diligence to ensure character, skill-set, and intellect are valued higher than race or sex.

Years ago, the NFL took a step to institute the "Rooney Rule," a policy that requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior management and operation jobs. Though there is no quota or preference given to minorities in the hiring of candidates, its premise helps to establish an even playing field.

Although they (NFL) aren’t perfect, this rule gives a certain level of accountability and responsibility when determining who will be leading your team or workforce in the future. It forces you to review and include some candidates you might not have otherwise. It would be wonderful to gain a similar standard in our industry when considering future leaders, so that opportunities can be opened to a wider, more diverse group who have the same skills but are often overlooked for one reason or another.

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