‘We have to work harder, that’s just the truth’: Struck CEO, Matt Anderson, on making agency diversity progress

‘We have to work harder, that’s just the truth.’: Struck CEO, Matt Anderson, on making agency diversity progress

As it relates to his own experiences in diversity, Matt Anderson, CEO and ECD of Salt Lake City-based indie Struck, had a few important “a ha” moments. The first was at a 3% Conference “MiniCon,” a road show extension of the main conference that traveled the United States. Portland’s 2015 stop was a revelation to Anderson, who was one of around 15 to 20 men in a room of 215 women — and attended alone. Though he was among the vast minority, he didn’t necessarily feel as though he didn’t belong there.

“[3% Conference founder] Kat [Gordon] had built an event where you feel welcome,” said Anderson. “But you also get a very visceral experience of what its like to be in the minority in a very true way.”

Though he felt as though he was on friendly turf, Anderson still was apprehensive about his direct participation — he felt as though he shouldn’t speak up much, or what he had to say didn’t matter, make a difference or was relevant.

After attending, what he was feeling hit him like a ton of bricks: “Things are really broken, and I’m the reason why.”

A few days later, as he continued to process the experience, Anderson, based at Struck’s Portland office, had a better sense of empathy as to what women experience on a daily basis.

“Not to say that my experience is the same but, there’s a thread that runs through there,” observed Anderson. “When you’re in the minority, an overwhelming minority, you feel your voice matters less. You feel what you have to say maybe doesn’t apply to what everybody else is talking about because you’re so much different from them.”

Anderson’s awakening resulted in a Medium post that was equal parts soul-bearing and eye-opening. It was also the second “a ha” moment, the point where he decided that it was time to truly do something about it. What was telling was that Anderson didn’t lean on the tired tome of “I have a daughter, so here’s why I care about it.” Rightly so, he pointed out that the logic makes little sense. Yes, some of us (myself and Anderson included) have daughters — but what are we doing now? If we are waiting to do something for our 4-year old, then we ostensibly delay the importance addressing today as opposed to tomorrow and, in fact, we potentially damage the future by waiting until our daughters are older.

The post itself sparked Gordon to reach out to Anderson — to not only speak at this year’s 3% Conference, but to engage in a little experiment: working to change the bias in his own address book. He took it one step further and looked at his social networks to identify whether or not he showed bias in the first place.

What he learned, on first glance, shocked Anderson. His gender breakdown on the social network was 71% male and 29% female. At first, he thought, “It’s not me, it’s just that women aren't going into advertising.” But on further review, he found that Twitter was 51% female and 49% male, immediately negating the defense. Knowing that, Anderson has been acutely aware of changing that ratio — but doing so in a thoughtful way. It’s easy to just simply follow more women, but he created a level of control, by changing his own ratio in the natural flow of his day and life.

“I’m really interested right now in this idea of social echo chambers,” said Anderson. “You create these social networks of people who are just like you. That’s all you hear all day long. They like the same music, they have the same political views. As long as you live in that cocoon all day long, it’s very easy to forget about what’s going on in other places.”

That realization forced Anderson to think about the state of affairs today in the industry and, more specifically, what is happening at Struck.

“We forget about — whether it’s more social context, or gender, or race, or whatever it might be — is that there are people out there having different experiences. The less we interact with them, the worse our work gets,” opined Anderson. “It becomes all about these inside jokes that we all share in this one form of our existence. We’re excluding all of these other experiences.”

The challenges that agencies like Struck face are twofold.

First, Struck has geography to contend with. Markets like Salt Lake City and Portland are not known as bastions of diversity. Both landed on a 2015 WalletHub study, ranking the least diverse cities in America. As it relates to women in the workplace, another WalletHub study ranked Oregon #13 best state for women to work but placed Utah at the bottom of the list. However, Anderson doesn’t necessarily see that as a hinderance but rather an opportunity.

“It’s just a bigger challenge,” said Anderson. “We have to work harder, that’s just the truth.”

The second issue facing Stuck and similar agencies are that, because of their size, they cannot necessarily just turn on a dime and change things instantly. As Anderson pointed out, there is a natural ebb and flow of the business and “we owe it to our employees to keep our business afloat and keep it moving.”

“Some days I wish that we were three or four hundred people and that we were turning over a hundred people a year and you could really make a mark very quickly,” noted Anderson. “You think about some of those places like the big holding companies — they have tens of thousands of employees. With a focused effort, they can make a difference for thousands of people over the course of a year. For us it’s three or four people.”

Though the change appears to be incremental, that is not stopping Anderson and Struck. The agency is making significant strides to ensure that women and people from diverse backgrounds are well taken care of. For example, Struck is making it much easier for new mothers to return to work — including flex scheduling, adding a pumping room in Portland (which new mothers in the entire building that houses Struck are welcome to use) and continuing to evolve its parental leave programs. The agency has also hired a full-time HR recruiter, worked on making job postings more accessible to all audiences and begun a diversity taskforce — all designed to make a significant impact.

Anderson also exhibited strong leadership, following up on his original Medium post with another, charting the agency's progress last April, that was open, candid and unflinching in its admission that progress still needs to be made.

Being true to his word, Anderson followed up the follow up with another post four days ago, again, not hiding from the fact that even more work is to be done. And, again, Anderson soldiers on, despite the challenges he and the agency have faced.

“I think the fact that we talk about it all the time is something that makes me feel good,” said Anderson. “The numbers are ultimately where we can really take some satisfaction, looking forward to year two and saying, ‘Our operative team is fifty percent female and our leadership team is fifty percent female.’ I think that’s where the true satisfaction comes.”

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