Kai Lawson

#my2cents on the #3percentconf 2017

Kai Lawson
#my2cents on the #3percentconf 2017

It’s not a secret that I am very cautious about my expectations, when it comes to conferences, panels, and other events, that focus on the conversation of Diversity & Inclusion, within the Advertising industry. As a self described solutions driven person, I cringe when organizations and people spend tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce events, to discuss problems, but not initiate change. I see it as a huge money dump and in the end, wasteful.  In fact, back in June, I shared the following sentiment, on my blog:


…Instead, these creative minds sit down and produce panel discussions and think pieces, that dissect the idea of Diversity and Inclusion, so deeply, they forget experience and thought diversity are both affected by one’s personal journey in this life, and that journey will vary (greatly) based on RACE, GENDER & SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS. But let’s face it. Talking about race makes people feel uncomfortable. Talking about gender makes people feel uncomfortable. Talking about a lack of money, makes people feel uncomfortable. For the people who have not had the opportunity to live an uncomfortable life, these real conversations are just that… too uncomfortable.


So, here I am, in November of 2017 and I am happy to report I see some sort of change in progress. Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 2017 3% Conference, and while I will always see room for improvement in discussions about equality and equity in the advertising industry, I do feel like I left the conference feeling not only inspired, but re-charged to go into the world and lead the next wave of change. 

This year’s theme was Beyond Gender, a tag line that spoke directly to some of the critiques of past 3% conferences. As a movement, 3% has primarily pushed for the elevation of women creatives in advertising, however visibly, had not accounted for other areas that desperately need advocacy and advancement, such as Race and LGBTQ relations. As the equity and advancement of people of color (primarily people of brown colors) being my personal priority, I was keen to pay close attention to how these issues would be addressed during the conference. 

Below, I’ve listed my takeaways from the event: 

  1. Many speakers kept it real- I’m not one for mincing words. If you have something to say, say it. So, when I realized that many of the speakers within this conference had come to the stage to snatch wigs, and edges and call bullshit, I was here for it. Primarily along the Manbassadors and Leadership tracks, People said what they were thinking. It was clear that many speakers were also tired of playing nicely in the D&I sandbox. For example, during the First Person discussion, God-Is Rivera of VML, noted that in relations with women, it’s important for men to work twice as hard to level the playing field for the inclusion of their women counterparts. Noting “it’s not the job of the oppressed to fix things, but the job of the oppressor.” This was a direct call to action to the men in the room who say they want to make change. It was also refreshing to hear the Moderator Matt Wallaert acknowledge out loud, that men benefit from systems of sexism. In an industry where many white men, believe that racism and sexism are figments of the imagination of marginalized people, we need more white men to keep it real in rooms of their peers, so we can keep the conversations going and get the changes moving. 
  2. Crowd Participation, begets critical thinking- Speaking of snatching wigs, edges, and gathering folks right together, the audience DID NOT COME TO PLAY in 2017. During the “Now I Know” panel, on Day 1 of the conference, an audience member came to the mic with some food for thought. The young woman noted, the conversation about asking people of color questions to understand their experience, made her “uncomfortable” as she felt pressured to answer their questions, when they could reference resources for their answers. Also, agency owner, Derek Walker of Brown and Browner, also had a moment of clarity during the Certification panel on day 2. He cautioned the now 3% Certified agencies, VML & 72 & Sunny, to not tell black people to “wait” in situations where they wouldn’t advise white women to do so. This sentiment was shared in response to his question about hiring and advancing senior level black creatives in addition to focusing on junior level in-take, as a part of their diversity efforts. These moments sparked dozens of retweets and even caused a “cash me outside” moment in the lobby. Yup— people were in their feelings. Just where we needed, to be. 
  3. Diversity on the stage & Diversity in the room- As I mentioned in my intro, many people had critiqued the 3% conference’s lack of visible diversity of men and women, especially people of color, during conferences past. This year, I ran into HANDFULS OF BLACK WOMEN CREATIVES. It was not only refreshing, it was powerful. Many of these women showed up to dispel the myth that there is a lack of black and black woman creatives. They were in the room representing themselves and our futures. Also, the men and women represented on many of these stages was phenomenal. Kat Gordon, acknowledged this during her closing when she discussed the efforts to make the conference more diverse. She noted that it was done on purpose, in carefully crafting words for the Diversity ticket, to making new friends and asking questions. Her team’s intention was to diversify the conference and they succeeded. Not to mention, when you bring Luvvie Ajayi on as your event MC, KNOWING SHE HAS AN EMPTY BAG OF FUCKS, when it comes to conversations about race and power, then its clear you know what you’re getting into and you’re clearly here for the change. 
  4. Set the bar/ Create the standard- I know many people have various feelings about the 3% certification and it’s process. I am personally 90% here for it. If you’re going to talk about making change you have to set the standard for what that change looks like. This year the 3% movement instituted a certification audit for agencies who wanted to take their D&I efforts seriously, put their cards on the table and analyze what they’re great at and what they needed to work harder on. At the end of that process, the 3% team selected top agencies who were doing the damn thing. The first set of recipients, of the 3% certification were VML and 72&Sunny. Both agencies being super deserving of the honor, as they made headlines this year for their work in the D&I space. Im in the business of creating my own standard and holding people accountable to it, and clearly so is the 3% movement.
  5. Kat Gordon, the Boss (KGTB)- Listen to me. From this day on, I will only reference Kat Gordon, as Kat Gordon, the Boss. I feel strongly that it is my duty and my honor to put RESPECK on the names of people who practice what they preach. Beyond creating a movement as authentic as 3%, beyond answering day to day emails about tickets, beyond taking feedback from conferences past and implementing it for 2017, I personally witnessed Kat Gordon do the thing that I wish most Advertising influencers would do. Piggy backing off of the heated, yet honest conversation between Derek Walker and the 3% certification recipients about the experience of black creatives in the Ad industry, Kat Gordon announced during her closing, that the 3% team will be conducting research about the experiences of creatives of color in the industry, in an effort to create opportunities for support for us. That’s some boss shit. Only bosses talk about, what they be about, and KGTB is clearly about this life. In a moment when she could have ignored the calls to action from black creatives, she took action. She— persisted, and therefor I support her movement.