As the Summer comes to an unofficial close, and the start of the conference circuit ramps up, I think it is important we have an ultra honest conversation, about a very large elephant in the figurative room of thought leadership.
I know that many people will be asked to contribute their perspectives to panels, podcasts, and articles on the topic of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. I know that even more will gather physically and digitally to absorb the content discussed and distributed. I even anticipate that a number of folks will add their takeaways to the agendas of their DEI teams, leads or officers to turn into internal programming for their enterprise. Yet, with all that I know about how the DEI conversation works in this business, I think it’s even more important for us to all know, and truly understand, that none of these efforts are enough, if they do not directly produce change. Yes, it is likely that we may feel really pleased with ourselves after publicly proclaiming how desperately we want to provide a safer workplace for women, and some may even receive bonus points for attending their company sponsored salsa lesson for Hispanic Heritage Month. However, if none of these appearances contribute to an increase in the retention and promotion of talent, who have historically been excluded from growth and success in this industry, then may I remind everyone, WE have NOT done our jobs.
In this conversation, it is easy to get caught up in the PR of it all. Everyone wants an event about DEI, or to have the most inspiring quote in the trades about it, but very rarely do we see enough leaders taking true action, to combat the disparities. I do not see the mandates from C level executives, calling for the assembly of an internal task force to focus on retaining mid-level talent of color within a fiscal year, or less. There is no internal discipline or team dedicated to ensuring the work produced by the organization, is done so in an equitable manner, with diverse teams, partners and inclusive thinking purposefully embedded. Most importantly there are very few companies brave enough to publish their diversity stats, and then demand that every manager in the organization have their goals directly tied to increasing those numbers. Furthermore, there are far too many leaders who will feel every suggestion I’ve just listed is too much, too difficult or too provocative. Instead, what we get are dozens of one-off initiatives, led by employees who have either eagerly volunteered, or who have been voluntold to take on these new tasks, on behalf of their company, as additional work, to the roles for which they were initially hired. These initiatives are often underfunded, under supported, and do not correlate with their day to day success metrics, which in itself is often a cause of conflict with direct managers, who do not see the value in their “extra curricular” activities. I do not see the investment in resources, nor have I seen enough monetary support to move the needle on the issues surrounding the lack of DEI, in our industry.
I have heard many leaders boast about the small yet mighty steps they have taken toward making their internal cultures more inclusive. They discuss this at every conference, from Advertising Week to Cannes. They mention their interns, and their recruitment, and the tickets they purchase to major industry events for their employees, who almost never seem to be junior or mid-level. However, I haven’t heard anyone brave enough to acknowledge that the small steps they’ve taken thus far, may have only been small steps in place.
It infuriates me that we don’t acknowledge how unproductive it is to hire 1 person of color, and lose two employees of color within the same time frame. It puzzles me that for every 2 employees that quit, we review 0 of their exit interviews. Honestly, if we’re not reviewing exit interviews, do we even really know what we’re fixing? If we keep telling our junior and mid-level talent that all they have to do is send an email or put time on calendars, and we ignore the emails and continuously move the meeting invites until they eventually fall off the radar, then what exactly are we REALLY doing to ensure our industry, our businesses and our cultures are in fact more diverse, equitable and inclusive? We know this answer… It’s nothing.
I imagine that I am not the only person in this industry who is tired of everything being said and, yet nothing being done, to force change. I am not the only person sick of showing up to what is promised to be a productive and forward thinking conversation, and finding that the only people conversing are the ones experiencing all of the challenges, while the people with all the influence, platforms and power to decide policy, sit along the fringe silently to“listen”, while never following through on the information they’ve just heard.
I imagine there will be someone who reads this that may feel judged and attacked, and to that I say good. I want everyone to finally feel something other than pleased with themselves. I want everyone to feel enough irritation, that it forces more than words to be exchanged, throughout the conference circuit. I want accountability. I want action. I want change. I want this post to be taken for what it truly is; tough love for an amazing industry that can be so much better than we are right now.