This past June, ad agencies released employee diversity data and made public commitments to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in advertising. Since then, agencies told Digiday they are still committed to change but this past September agency employees believed more action was needed.
If you ask agency employees about the DE&I conversations at agencies now, you’ll likely hear the same thing. In the latest edition of our Confession series, in which we trade anonymity for candor, we hear from a Black copywriter at a creative agency about what has and hasn’t changed at agencies since June.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Are agencies still in planning mode when it comes to fixing DE&I issues?
Agencies are still rolling out a lot of longer term plans when it comes to how they will change, which I think is a lot of bullshit. How does it take six months for you to fix your hiring practices or fix your diversity and inclusion issues?
My agency, for example, never released our diversity numbers. It became a long term plan where they brought in a consulting group. It’s weird — we’ve been talking about making plans or making actual steps to bring in minorities since June. But then it wasn’t until the fall that they brought people in to have actual conversations. So I think agencies are going at their own pace.
Do you think agencies are actually committed to change?
I am still hopeful. I do see agencies hiring. But then I also see situations, like at my agency, where you can tell there’s a lot of posturing, a lot of straight faced lies where people are saying they do care and want to make the workplace equitable for everybody, but they are just saying what they believe people want to hear. In reality, they don’t really want to change it or don’t believe they need to change the internal agency culture.
Why do you say that?
This isn’t just about hiring. It’s also about the culture inside of agencies. There are a lot of agencies that are not minority friendly and when they do have minority employees it’s a certain style of minority. There’s this model minority thing that happens where if you’re not the type of Asian person they hire, then they won’t hire you or if you’re not the type of Black person they hire, then they’re not going to hire you. I feel like you can tell that agencies want to maintain their agency culture — they’ve created legacies off of toxic environments.
Much of the focus has been on adding more Black employees rather than trying to retain the Black talent agencies already have. Do you think that’s part of the problem?
Yeah, totally. It’s a problem. I had a conversation with my agency HR about bias I’ve experienced at my own agency and I told them that before they started to look around to bring in Black and Brown people they should do something about the internal culture. I’ve been interviewing at a few different agencies, too. What you’ll notice is that a lot of agencies are not changing their hiring practices. They’re talking to minorities, but not changing what they expect from minorities. I feel like nothing is going to change internally until they change the people that are handling it.
What do you wish agencies would actually change?
Agency leadership need to become diversity leaders [rather than relegating the duties to one person via the chief diversity officer role.] Hiring someone to do your job for you doesn’t show that you care about the job [of making your agency diverse and inclusive]. What needs to happen is that the HR heads, the CEOs, CCOs, they all need to speak up for diversity and train themselves on diversity and inclusion mandates. The creative department is the heart of the agency. Until the people who run the creative department actually care about it, the diversity conversation isn’t going to move forward. People will commit money, some people will give grants but I don’t see how that will actually push the conversation forward.