2017 might be coming to a close, but the conversation around diversity in the industry is one that will no doubt persist well into 2018.
In fact, the organizers of CES will kick off the new year with a conference that’s received a barrage of criticism in recent weeks for posting a keynote speaker lineup that’s largely white and male. While CES has made a few last-ditch efforts to make its lineup more diverse, it’s still left many in the industry wondering how a conference that bills itself as “the proving ground for innovators” could be so tone-deaf in a year where diversity and gender equality have dominated headlines.
Bob Liodice, chief executive of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), thinks that CES’s blunder is indicative of a larger issue that the industry has when it comes to tackling diversity within its ranks: a lack of public data on the subject that companies can benchmark themselves against.
“When we clamor for diversity, we don’t know what we’re clamoring for because we don’t understand where we are at the present moment,” Liodice says. “We need this data to become fundamentally educated and to have intelligent conversations. The problem is that we just talk at a 60,000-foot level about these subjects without the background or the intelligence to have meaningful dialogue.”
Some organizations have been taking steps to collect this type of data in hopes of painting a better picture of where the industry stands. Last month, the 3% Movement revealed the results of a study that examined diversity and inclusion data at 31 agencies around the world. The study, which marks the first installment of a body of data that 3% hopes to grow as more agencies anonymously share information, found that 39% of women hold executive roles across agencies of all sizes while 29% now hold creative director roles. The report also collected data around paid maternity leave policies, wage audits and unconscious bias training.
But on the client side, data like this is harder to come by. According to Fortune, only 3.2% of companies on this year’s Fortune 500 list publicly release complete data for the race and gender of their employees in each job category and management level.
Liodice takes issue with this since it means there are scant public records of what marketing departments across the US look like. While he acknowledges that “sheer observation” at marketing events like the ANA’s annual Masters of Marketing conference show that the industry has a long way to go before it can be considered truly diverse, he thinks real measurements are needed to track what progress is being made.
“The best starting place is to get the data, create some averages and create some awareness about what is in fact taking place,” he says.
A handful of companies - most notably Verizon and HP - have recently become more transparent about the number of women and people of color they employ within their marketing departments, but few brands have followed suit.
However, brands appear to be interested in sharing this type of data with confidential sources to get a better handle on where they stand in relation to others and what more needs to be done. According to chief operating officer of the 3% Movement Lisen Stromberg, brands have reached out to the organization to inquire about its certification process, which rewards agencies who meet benchmarks around things like female leadership, opportunity for advancement and equality of work, wage and policies.
“We are thrilled to say we have had brands reach out to us to ask if we would engage them in the 3% Certification process - not in order to become certified, but to learn best practices and to ascertain solutions that will ensure they, too, have gender inclusive cultures,” she says. “It’s a first step, but an important one.”
Liodice says that the ANA could also be a well-placed organization to spearhead some sort of initiative that would encourage marketers to submit their data around diversity and inclusion, whether it be anonymously or publicly. The hope would be that this aggregate, baseline data could serve as a jumping-off point for brands that they could compare subsequent progress against.
“We’ve had quite a few conversations about the need to come together to talk about how we might do this,” he says. “We don’t want to give lip service to diversity. We really want to be able to do something about it. But frankly, I do not know whether we’re getting better or getting worse. And that’s really the cornerstone of my frustration.”