I was lucky enough to participate in the first session of this year’s Women of Color Summit on July 20. And this year’s theme, ICU – Intentionality, Commitment and Urgency – is not only timely, it’s also hugely important for our industry as Ad Age just reported that “Agencies owned or run by white execs jump to 90%.”
Here’s what I, a white, straight cis woman, take away from the summit, and how I think we can use these learnings to change that 90% statistic to be more inclusive and reflective of America’s demographic.
Intentionality: Creating more diverse spaces that are welcoming to historically excluded groups doesn’t happen by accident. It has to be done on purpose. When we look around the room (or the Zoom) and realize that there are few, if any, people of color with us, it’s a call to act with intention. Hearing the stories shared by my fellow panelists gives clear direction to those of us in the majority. Speak up for those who aren’t in the room; ask why they’re not included and how we can bring them in. Don’t just make a seat at the table – actively welcome, include, listen and engage. If it was Thanksgiving dinner, you can’t stop at just setting another place at the table – make sure you’re passing the potatoes!
Commitment: After George Floyd was murdered and people took to the streets in protest in 2020, the business community responded by committing to sweeping diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Three years later, we see that many of those commitments haven’t materialized or have stalled. That 90% agency ownership/leadership statistic is evidence of that in the advertising industry. We’re in a unique position to influence public sentiment because we are storytellers. And by default, we decide whose stories are told, how, and by whom. There are many rich and valuable stories to be shared that don’t see the light of day because the commitment to DEI has wavered. We’ve seen how powerful (and profitable) it is when chronically underrepresented groups see their stories brought to life – just look at the Black Panther or Crazy Rich Asians effect. There’s a rich tapestry to be woven and we have the power to make it happen.
Urgency: America grows more diverse every day. But that diversity is not realized in far too many ways. As marketing and communications professionals, we have the opportunity to lead the charge in acting with urgency. We know the power of storytelling. We know how to motivate, influence, persuade and educate. When we commit, act with intention and do so urgently, culture follows. People of color and historically excluded communities are exhausted. It’s past time for industries like ours with predominantly white leadership to light the proverbial fire and ignite meaningful urgency.