Hundreds of black advertising professionals have signed an open letter demanding urgent action from agency leadership to tackle "the systemic racism that is afflicting our industry".
Amid the deluge of advertisers and agencies declaring their support for Black Lives Matter following the death of George Floyd and subsequent mass protests, the letter from 600 black ad professionals say these words “ring hollow in the face of our daily lived experiences.”
Titled 'A call for change', the letter was spearheaded by Nathan Young, a group strategy director at Minneapolis agency Periscope, and Bennett D. Bennett, who runs independent consultancy Aerialist and formerly worked as a reporter at The Drum.
The list of signatories includes black professionals from some the US's biggest advertising agencies, including BBDO Worldwide, Droga5, Grey, GroupM, Havas, McCann New York, Leo Burnett, Publicis, Saatchi & Saatchi and Wieden + Kennedy.
It states that “agency leadership had been blind to the systemic racism and inequality that persists within our industry" and notes that "many gallons of ink have been spilled on op-eds and think pieces, but tangible progress has eluded this industry for too long."
While acknowledging that there have been decades of well-intentioned diversity and inclusion efforts, the letter claims the industry has "seen little progress in making black voices a more representative part of the creative process."
It calls out the ad industry's 'boy's club' mentality, stating "the same elitism and discrimination behaviour that has restricted women from advancing in the workplace, has resulted in an oppressive monoculture that stifles the growth of black agency professionals and restricts our ability to express our true selves."
Offering some key areas that need addressing, the letter includes 12 pointers on how to end systemic racism in advertising.
It firstly asks US advertising agencies to make a specific, measurable, and public commitment to improve black representation at all levels of agency staffing – especially senior and leadership positions.
It then asks leaders to track and publicly report workforce diversity data on an annual basis, audit agency policies, and culture to ensure the work environment is more equitable and inclusive to a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives and to provide extensive bias training to HR employees and all levels of management.
Further, it asks leadership teams to extend agency outreach to a more diverse representation of colleges, universities, and art schools, expand residencies and internship programs to candidates with transferable skills who may not have taken a traditional educational path toward advertising and to create, fund, and support employee resource groups for black employees.
The open letter joins similar efforts calling for industry change, but it is the first to come entirely from black advertising professionals' perspective.
Yesterday (9 June) the United Nations and the World Federation of Advertisers committed to establishing a series of measures that will hold brands to account when it comes to both the diversity of their workforces and how they’re tackling inequality through their advertising.
And, last week (3 June), advertising trade bodies and leaders from the UK’s largest agencies signed an open letter pledging solidarity with the black community. That letter was coordinated by Creative Equals – a body dedicated to promoting diversity in the workplace.
You can read the full open letter to the US ad industry, and see a complete list of signatories, below.