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Take action: it’s the make or break moment for the BIPOC pipeline

The 55 G.R.O.W.T.H. graduates,

Intent or intentional, there is a big difference. Here’s what creative agencies interested in action can learn from the GROWTH Initiative — a grassroots BIPOC training regimen that has helped dozens of bright minds.

Most know that internships can make or break a young person’s career with aspirations of getting into any industry. It can make their career by giving them exposure, experience, access, opportunity to learn the ins and outs of and figure out if it’s really for them.

It can also break their career when they find out what awaits them in ’agency life’ is poor culture and the lack of BIPOC and women representation in an agency’s upper echelons.

It’s no secret that the advertising and communications industries are among the many sectors that have had extreme diversity issues stemming from decades of systemic racism and sexism. Before the pandemic, many companies boasted of their great culture and diversity of thought, but rarely addressed the racial and gender disparities across leadership and disciplines. Then once Covid-19 hit it appeared that some industries were even reducing or eliminating their diversity and inclusion departments.

My first thought was to adapt to the cards that coronavirus dealt us all by creating something virtual. I decided, quickly, create an eight week virtual agency experience for multicultural up and comers who recently graduated. The program was called the GROWTH Initiative, an acronym for ’Giving Real Opportunity with Talent Heart’. This has been my internal mantra for the last nine years, doing diversity and inclusion work in adverting and communications.

I called an emergency meeting with my 100 Roses from Concrete senior leadership team and shared with them the idea. My message was clear and precise. Our industry was at the precipice of a moment that could set back years of hard work to improve the BIPOC talent pipelines from organizations like the 4A’s, the Marcus Graham Project, Adcolor, and the T Howard Foundation. We needed to act immediately and step in where many agencies were afraid to in the face of a global pandemic. So, we got creative.

The response from the team to begin working was unanimous. By 15 April, we had opened applications by partnering with the Advertising Club of New York (Ericka Riggs, Maiya Rushing, and Gina Grillo), and Save The Internships New York (Rebecca Rivera). By 15 May, we had over 130 applications and four nonprofits clients signed on to be a part of the experience.

Everything came together extremely quick thanks to the GROWTH team because everyone was adapting to the new realities for what ’normal’ had become. I was a little worried about how we were even going to pull it all off and not let down the fellows who were taking a gamble on a new organization that was barely a year old. With no time for doubt, we launched the program on 1 June and welcomed 55 of the brightest young advertising and communications minds to an experience they would hopefully cherish for the rest of their lives.

On 29 July we graduated all 55 of those amazing young people and sent some of them into the advertising, marketing, media, and communications industries while others returned to school. In addition, all the client work produced by the fellows will be going on television.

Yes, this took work and will power from a small, dedicated group of people. Which is why I cannot understand is how multimillion-dollar creative agencies couldn’t do this? Why would they ever give up on such an amazing group, especially in times like these? Also, where was their creativity in a time when it was needed most?

I quickly learned the difference between intent and intentional. Companies can have all the intent in the world and do not need to be held accountable because it is just talk. However, when they are intentional, there is a certain level of action, accountability, and responsibility. Intentional was every experience the team, volunteer mentors, guest speakers and I provided to these young people throughout their time in the program. Providing intentional tools for the next generation to succeed is essential for the advertising and communications industries if they want a future.

During a pandemic and continued civil unrest in our country, our industries cannot afford take any steps backward in regard to the lack of diversity on all levels. Therefore,we must provide the GROWTH Initiative by any means necessary.

Based on our learnings, here are three action steps you can take right now:

1. Widen your talent net. Be cognizant that incredible talent comes from all different types of schools — historically black colleges and universities, predominately white colleges, and community colleges. Agencies must intentionally widen their search for BIPOC talent.

2. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. We can’t afford to be comfortable anymore. The show must go on even if it means getting uncomfortable with creating new programs, putting yourselves out there and doing what’s never been done before.

3. Don’t say it, mean it. Truly give people a north star wrapped in truth, compassion and evolution, and you will be able to build a sustainable movement that will change lives.

Keni Thacker is founder of 100 Roses from Concrete, program creator of the GROWTH Initiative and diversity, equity and inclusion consultant for agencies big and small. To download the GROWTH Is My Initiative ebook, click here.

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