This semester, I have been fortunate enough to be admitted into the TexasMedia program. There are thirty plus, talented students in the cohort, which reflect the future leaders of the industry, however I am the only black male. The other day, my professor asked me to come in and speak with her introduction class of nearly 150 students; again I was the only black male in the room. These are two specific examples, however both in the classroom and in the work place I have had countless identical experiences. The closer I get to entering the work force in corporate America, the more I have come to the realization that diversity is a serious issue in the advertising industry.
While I am speaking from my experience as a black man, there are other under represented groups in both executive positions as well as in content produced by agencies ranging from women, to the LGBQT community, to muslims. This past summer, Saatchi & Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts was asked to take a leave of absence from the agency following his insensitive comments describing gender equality within the industry as a “non issue”. A contradictory survey conducted in 2014 by The 3% Conference found women make up just 11.5% of creative directors within ad agencies. (http://www.businessinsider.com/saatchi-and-saatchis-kevin-roberts-placed-on-leave-after-saying-the-gender-diversity-in-advertising-debate-is-over-2016-7) With a lack of awareness from the industries leaders, it raises many questions regarding diversity initiatives within the ad field. If top ranking execs at our nations most notable firms are ignorant to the under representation of diversity in leadership roles, how can we expect to resolve this problem?
Employees in add agencies seem to be receptive to the lack of effort put forth by upper management. According to new data released by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, 74 percent of 4A’s members surveyed feel agencies are either mediocre or worse when it comes to hiring a diverse group of employees. (http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/ad-industry-mediocre-or-worse-hiring-diverse-talent-study-finds-173762)
There are multiple benefits that result from having a diverse work place that may not be apparent to the naked eye. As the workplace becomes more global and integrated, it is important to have a broad range of perspectives to compensate. If top level executives make a stronger push to recruit diverse talent, they will become more rounded, balanced, companies. With that being said, striving for true equality within the work place can be a daunting task. Under representation of various groups stems from deep-rooted systematic flaws and ugly topics that are not very comfortable for “water cooler” talk. While diversity initiatives may sound good on paper, it is difficult to truly solve these topics without addressing the issue at its core. It is important for companies to mirror that of the communities around them so that they can better serve the consumer. While it can be very off putting to see the lack of representation of my race in the industry, it also gives me hope that I will be able to carve a path in which many minorities can follow in the future.