’It's an all-in, all-out crusade’: Momentum and opportunities in industry conference diversity

(From left) Vita Harris (FCB), Kofi Amoo-Gottfried (Facebook) and Cynthia Augustine (FCB) at Creativity in Color at Cannes

As this year’s slate of conferences and events gets closer to the finish line, the conversation around inclusion continues to lie at or near the surface as the business argument for diversity continues to build momentum.

In each area of equality — gender, race, LGBTQ, disability and ageism — some impact has been made, though it is still, in large part, confined to the individual areas which can conceivably create an echo chamber effect of each cohort simply talking to each other without necessarily crossing over into other areas.

For its part, the 3% Conference identified an opportunity to scale the conversation. Kat Gordon, who founded the conference six years ago, made it a priority to evolve the conference — and unveiling “Beyond Gender” as a theme was a key indicator of change.

“I had an awareness that there were too many white people and too many women here,” she said. “We’re not going to get the job done without men and people of color feeling that we’re representing them as well.”

To that end, Gordon and her team have consciously worked to get a more representative speaker lineup, culminating in the roster being 50% people of color and encouraging more men to attend as well.

“I realized that we were solving for the ‘woman problem’ first — but that also includes people of color, the gay and lesbian community, older creatives — and we have to be more overt in our approach,” she noted. “If you're for diversity, it's an all-in, all-out crusade. You can't cherry pick which parts you're going to support. So I felt it was time for us to make it clear that women cannot be prioritized over other forms of diversity. That diversity in all of its forms drives creativity and profitability.”

The continuing business argument for inclusion

The business argument about inclusion and diversity, though still largely anecdotal, continues to evolve. Antonio Lucio, HP's chief marketing officer, has long advocated for inclusion among their partner agencies and, at Advertising Week New York, he released data on BBDO, Fred & Farid, Gyro, PHD and Edelman that pointed to progress in women and minority hires.

“When we started this journey, less than 20% of people working in our accounts were from underrepresented groups. Today, over 25% are from underrepresented groups. Fred & Farid went from 21% to 44%, and PHD, our media agency, went from 21% to 40%. The other agencies did make some improvements, but not as significant, therefore we have a lot of work to do this year,” he said.

“I think that we are in deficit of hardcore data about how inclusion actually impacts the bottom line,” said Gordon. “And until there's that kind of follow-up business case, I think a lot of people think it's a ‘nice to have’, it's optional, it's not a core business need. And leaders like (IPG chairman and chief executive) Michael Roth are ahead of the game. They understand that it actually is a real bottom line factor that needs to be looked at as such.”

Leaders like Roth are putting their money where their mouths are, requiring that IPG agencies and leaders prioritize inclusion.

“Michael Roth is absolutely looking at every leader, through the lens of diversity and inclusion — and their initiatives and what they're doing. Compensation is linked to it,” noted Vita Harris, FCB executive vice president and chief strategy officer.

Internally, at FCB, Harris has been an integral part of a program called “Intentional Inclusion” that focuses on unconscious bias and is primarily about self-awareness and the self-understanding of things that people may have not seen or understood in the past. This sensitization helps identify these biases, but doesn’t make it about just one group, but the whole.

“A lot of the other kinds of programs that we've seen, and that I've lived through, almost put the burden of it on the people who are white,” said Harris. “This doesn't do that. This puts the onus on every single person. Intentional inclusion is a call to action, and that intentional inclusion isn't limited to race or gender. It's race. It's gender. It's age. You name it. It includes all of that. So, the call to action is to get people to be more conscious about being more intentionally inclusive in their work environment, in the workplace, as well as how we look at the marketplace.”

There is likely a strong business argument for getting agencies and partners on the same team as brands, like HP and others like General Mills, are more conscious of their impact on society and the wider consumer culture.

“We are seeing more and more options for RFI’s (request for information) that come in, or when we're engaged in conversations with our clients that they are absolutely looking for greater diversity in the teams that they're hiring,” said Harris. “We see that in the RFI's, specifically when we're pitching. We hear it. We know that some of the issues that are coming up for certain brands, you have to think about the business issue, through the lens of a more diverse America.”

Cannes and creativity in color

One FCB project that went a long way in breaking down the barriers and discomfort was their work on the 2010 US Census.

“Our team was extremely diverse,” said Harris. “We got to a place where no one was afraid to say black or white, no one was afraid to say whatever — and we were all free to express ourselves and disagree and agree— and be open to what we didn’t know. That’s when it works and that works for Susan and Carter.”

Harris is referring to Susan Credle, FCB global chief creative officer and FCB global chief executive Carter Murray, both of whom have not been shy about inclusion and are willing champions.

One effort that was given substantial support was FCB’s Creativity In Color initiative this past summer at Cannes Lions, which identified and celebrated people of color in marketing and advertising and grew from Harris’ own experiences at the festival.

“One of the things that was really apparent to me right away was that I felt kind of alone and isolated,” shared Harris. “It's odd because clearly I'm here [at Cannes], out there with people I work with, which was all good, but when you look around and you see the environment you're in and you don't see other people who look like you, it really struck me. It stood out very much so, and it bothered me.”

The year after this realization, Harris returned and experienced the same feeling, though she did run into several people of color she knew.

“We literally ran up to each other, and hugged each other and we were saying, ‘Oh, my God. You're the first person of color I've seen since I've been here, and I've been here two days,’” she recalled.

Harris shared her experience with Murray and the brainstorming on closing the Cannes gap began, culminating in a collaboration with Anastasia Williams, executive director of the I.D.E.A. Initiative, an organization dedicated to driving business growth through diversity, that resulted in a collaboration between FCB’s Creativity In Color and I.D.E.A. Initiative’s #CannesInColor.

“One of the ideas for this was to have everybody in one place to show that ‘we’re here, not alone and a force,'" said Credle during Cannes Lions. “When I started going to The Girl’s Lounge in a sea of men at Cannes, and everyone looks like you, it’s a moment of courage-building, confidence-building and thinking ‘I’m okay, I’m not alone.'"

Missed conference opportunities?

Though events, panels and social events can have a material benefit for individual industry constituencies, the conundrum with programming in large-scale conferences is that efforts end up feeling almost exclusive and a missed opportunity for the wider industry.

“Do I think [conferences are] a platform, do I think it's a stage for furthering this agenda? I absolutely believe that,” said Harris. “I think that the challenge is how do you promote an event that is addressing issues around diversity and inclusion and not have the audience be just be people of color who already know the issue. So, I think that's the challenge, how are we going to open up the door or present content in a way that compels people to say ‘I need to be there.'"

Gordon, in her mind, sees improvement but could be considered incremental.

“I'm cautiously optimistic about Cannes,” she said. “I think some of the things they've done in recent years — Madonna Badger's involvement and making sure that disrespectful objectifying work is not even eligible for an honor. The See It, Be It program, the Glass Lion. I think they're doing the right things. Having run 3% now for six years, I'm starting to see the pace at which social change happens and it's slower than anyone would like. And so I'm encouraged by what Cannes doing and also hoping they'll keep up that pressure," she said.

As for her own 3% Conference, which begins in New York on November 2nd, Gordon is seeing an important transition and distinction, which could provide a blueprint on evolving individual, siloed discussions around industry inclusion.

“The biggest leap forward I've seen is representation of women in critical leadership, which is our whole crusade,” she said. “And [also] seeing that we're not a women's conference — we’re a business conference — and seeing people understand that and the upside — and having clients and brands see the upside — I think that's another huge win.”

Wunderman proudly supports The Drum’s 3% Conference coverage. We believe true diversity does not check boxes, it checks itself. http://wunderman.com/

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Doug Zanger

Doug Zanger is the Americas editor for The Drum. He leads the Americas editorial team’s content activity in the growing region. Based in Portland, Oregon, he is committed to sharing the most meaningful stories that benefit the global industry and its people. A Minnesota native, Zanger has covered a wide range of brands, issues and personalities, including Aloe Blacc, Seu Jorge, Wendy Clark, Susan Credle, Dan Wieden, Jeff Goodby and more. Fiercely dedicated to diversity, equality and talent, he has interviewed several women in leadership roles through his Exceptional Women of the World podcast.

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