R/GA diversity head Carl Desir: ‘The train’s built, I’m here to help drive it to its destination’

Carl Desir, formerly of the 4As talent initiatives arm, takes on R/GA's first global diversity post / R/GA

R/GA has appointed Carl Desir, former vice president of talent initiatives from the 4As, as its first diversity and inclusion director.

Desir, who helped run the group of pipeline initiatives that includes the 45-year-old Multicultural Advertising Intern Program (MAIP), the industry’s two designated high schools MECA and IAM, and the 4As foundation has now been given global responsibility by the IPG agency to oversee and streamline the agencies inclusion practices, and weave them throughout business lines and offices across the network.

He returns to agency life after spending earlier stages of his career at Translation, J Walter Thompson, and Arnold. His most recent role involved, most notably, helping cultivate the largest pipeline of diverse talent for the ad industry. MAIP alone has averaged over 160+ fellows over the past few years with hire rates over 90% within a year of graduating during his tenure.

In choosing R/GA as his next chapter, Desir says: “The reputation has obviously been there. R/GA has been a leader in so many different spaces, so why not make them a leader in D&I?”

The agency, he says, has made commitments through its BRGs (business resource groups), including Ben (Black Employee Network), Women Up, and others. "We were the first ad agency to sponsor Blavity Inc's (a digital publisher made for black millennials) annual Afro Tech conference,” he notes of Ben, which also held a small business market in its New York headquarters for Black History Month.

“Our LGBTQ network has linked what they do to actual business results, which is just amazing. Clients are searching for this stuff and they’ve been delivering, even if they’re not working on a client, but because they’re best equipped to speak on that market.

“Our Women Up group has now gone global—it started in London, spreading out to the US—and you know how important women’s issues are in and out of the industry. Somos (R/GA’s hispanic/latinx BRG) is the next evolution of that.”

How the industry communicates with the various voices in American society has been a hot-button topic has been an undercurrent for media and marketing in recent months, with fallout between Papa Johns and agency partner Laundry Service over racial slurs being a top headline. Desir believes the agency’s commitment is authentic and hands-on.

“Diversity is something that I've heard time and time again: they want it, they’re they're ready. They, you know, really just needed somebody to come help drive that. Right? The train's built and we just need to build those cars behind it and tried it to the destination and that's really exciting.”

How the industry communicates with the various voices in American society has been a hot-button topic has been an undercurrent for media and marketing in recent months, with the Papa John N-word saga being a top headline in recent weeks.

“Not only are the employees willing to do stuff because that's already happening and we’re just building and building upon that. But there's support from top leadership on down.

Desir looks at his role as one that helps elevate these conversations and solves such issues through all-in collaboration over just shouldering an entire burden alone.

“You got people helping you shovel that coal," he says, "and they’ve all said ‘We're going to support you. We're going to make this happen.’ It’s not like a ‘You're here now. All this is yours. Run with it.’”

As such, Desir’s role allows him to work with all of the innovation agency’s business lines, including its venture studios, data and content arms, and new retail and architecture practices that it acquired in the last couple of months.

He stressed the importance of the talent pipeline and how the agency looks to attract and retain staffers from more marginalized populations. “It's important that we understand and do better on how, why, and where we are recruiting these days to find talent, especially adequately. You need so much talent for what R/GA does and you just can't go to the advertising schools or certain schools.

“My goal is to amplify those things throughout the network, and then on the flip side keep improving and working on the culture here so that everyone does feel like they can bring their full self to work,feel like they belong, keep doing the work of the BRGs are doing to create communities had been spread out. We want to make sure throughout the company — no matter who you are, where you are, and what office you've come into, you feel like you can be yourself, and make an impact, whether it's on your day to day or side stuff.”

Desir concedes that its a “very lofty goal,” but did his best to contain excitement for the tasks ahead. “I love the opportunity to be at a place that lives off of innovation, to help build things. Ideas turn into conversations here, not only internally and globally, but also when the work goes out into the world

“That's exciting because when you know that there are so many different things R/GA does. Let’s say you come up with an idea for like a mentoring match algorithm thing and it actually gets pushed out to the rest of the world through one of our R/GA divisions. Why wouldn't you want to? There's so many possibilities to impact change both internally and externally.”

As this has been his first summer working outside of the 4As in years, the alumni network of 4,500 has pondered his next move. For the alumni and 200+ fellows of the program who plan to attend the 4As annual Face of Talent conference week, Desir left a message for them:

“The potential of the MAIP community is limitless. I’ve seen the community’s power and influence grow exponentially of the past decade. Thank you to all the MAIPers I’ve seen come through the program and all the MAIP Alumni who are showing the world what talented, driven, diverse individuals are capable of. I am honored and humbled to have a small place in MAIP’s history.

“The future is beyond bright for the MAIP Community and I’m excited to support this community in every way I can.”

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