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Advertising, are you too late when it comes to diversity and inclusion?

The advertising industry is way behind when it comes to diversity and inclusion, but it is not too late providing a roadmap to systemic, embedded change begins to emerge.

That was the key takeaway from a recent digital panel, Advertising, are you too late when it comes to diversity and inclusion, hosted by Adobe Stock and The Drum. The panel was moderated by Sonoo Singh, consulting editor at The Drum.

Is the advertising industry living up to some of its promise?

As Black History Month begins and, in the wake of the global outrage following the death of George Floyd in police custody in June, the panel reflected on whether the industry is living up to its promises.

“I think we are way, way behind and it is a slow start,” said Yolanda Haynesworth, executive vice president at Grey Health & Wellness. “There is just so much to debunk and to accomplish; you can’t just jump into it. We have only scratched the surface in terms of what we truly need to do.”

People in the industry are learning on personal, business and creative levels about what to do and how to do it, said Meg Moss, strategic business, agencies, Adobe. “Change has to be embraced from the top, but it also has to come from across the board.”

The industry should start by creating safe environments where everyone feels able to speak openly and honestly, and where uncomfortable questions can be asked. It would help to deal with the fear and trepidation about how to proceed felt by both non-white people and white people.

“You have the white colleagues that fear going into it. They don’t know what to say or how to approach it,” explained Haynesworth. “From the other side, [non-white colleagues] are fearful of speaking up because, for years on end, they have been conditioned to figure out the right way to play the line.”

Brands also have a central role to play in pushing the industry to go beyond diversity as a checkbox. “We have to go deeper than that,” said Haynesworth. “The driver is the brands and how these things are coming in from the clients, and how the budgets are set-up.”

Lean into the uncomfortable

The fear of not doing something is beginning to outweigh the fear of doing something, says Moss. “I am encouraged by the amount of brands reaching out to us saying, hey, we said we are going to do this, and we need help to make sure we live up to that. It’s the first time in my career I have come across that.”

Within in the industry, focusing on inclusivity instead of a broad notion of diversity will also be a turning point for creating real change. If there is inclusivity, everything else will follow, said Haynesworth.

“If we’re just saying diverse, that’s many different communities and populations. Each one has a different experience that they have lived, and you really want to address that.”

Moss added: “We don’t just say that there are two ages – young and old. We get really targeted about that in our communications. It is not white people and then another bubble of everybody else. We need to get more nuanced, and I don’t think we are there yet.”

Getting there requires action from all organisations on creating inclusive teams that include a much broader spectrum of race, culture and background. People must also be actively encouraged to bring and share their different lived experiences and to do so daily.

“If you have all of these experiences coming together, learning about each other, that’s when something special starts to happen,” said Haynesworth.

This has to come with opportunities for people from different races, backgrounds and cultures to hold senior positions too. “We have to have the authority to create change because that is where we tend to get that wrong,” she continued. “We know we need to pull some people in, but they end up staying at low levels, and then they leave.”

Change might not be radical, but let’s get started

Reiterating that changes need to come from the leadership down, because that sets a tone for positive change. Both Moss and Haynesworth concluded they’re not expecting radical change this year. However, the conversation must not end here.

For Moss, change must come through hiring a more inclusive workforce, and change should slow, steady, systemic and embedded. “That’s a good thing because a quick change may be a surface change.”

Haynesworth added: “The biggest thing I would love to see is roadmaps built in terms of how these structures and systems are going to change and become inclusive. That includes hiring into those senior roles.”

Watch the full panel recording here.

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