Cheat Code for Promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in your Marketing Agency

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

Many marketing agencies have taken the opportunity over the last few months to communicate how they value Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and how they are working to help change the narrative. However, it is time to go beyond merely rehashing statements about “listening and learning” and how “we see you, and we hear you”.

It is now time to start working to create an actual diversity and inclusion strategic plan designed to move the needle on diversity and inclusion goals. Silence and inaction are no longer an option for agencies, and with 70% of consumers saying it is important for the businesses they support to take a stand on social issues, organizations that do not act risk being canceled by their clients.

How do you go about planning, creating and implementing actionable strategies for promoting DEI in your agency? These tips can help.

Diversity does not happen by itself

The first step towards creating strategies that promote and encourage DEI is to realize that nothing will get done without the full commitment of leadership in your agency.

Inequity and non-inclusion have been a feature of the marketing and advertising industry for a long time, and we must recognize that these biases will not be swept away on the back of a few Twitter statements and hashtags. It takes focused and committed action to create more inclusive workplaces.

For context, here’s the magnitude of the situation. According to 2019 Diversity Report from the Association of National Advertisers, only 3% of member company Chief Marketing Officers are Black. Likewise, just 4% are Latinos and Asians only make up 5% of the total figures. Compare this with Whites who represent 85% of CMOs. And these figures do not even include statistics for exclusion of several other groups such as women, individuals with disabilities and LGBTQ.

The overwhelmingly unequal nature of the industry shows the volume of work necessary to start real progress towards a truly diverse and inclusive industry. But the work must begin now.

How to create your action plan

The first step to creating a sustainable and actionable DEI plan is to know half-measures simply won’t count.

Agencies cannot simply hire a few more diverse candidates and leave it at that. Deeper changes are necessary and the only way to achieve this is to adopt a long-term evolutionary view about the entire process. Understand the scope of what is necessary and then commit to a measurable, long-term plan to bring about the required change.

Here’s what marketing agencies should focus on as they create their DEI strategies:

  • Know your status. To start the process of creating a DEI-enabled workplace, it is important to understand your status. Agencies must know how the makeup of their workforce compares against available standards and if there are any inequities. Agencies should also identify policies or practices that currently affect DEI and understand exactly how they are causing discrimination. This includes reviewing company culture, hiring and promotion practices and other policies. Compiling this data lets the organization better show those areas that are lacking, and this insight will help shape the next steps.
  • Identify your objectives. The next step should then be to identify how the agency can work to steadily reduce and eventually eliminate the identified inequities. The focus should be on sustainable solutions, rather than quick fixes. Another key step here should be to identify how a DEI workforce can help achieve the agency’s business objectives. Being able to tie a more inclusive workplace to the organization’s strategic aims provides a valuable business case that lends extra support to the process. It will also be important for the next step.
  • Get everyone on board. While DEI is now recognized as a critical issue in most corporate spaces, it can still be difficult to bring some members of the agency world around. Being able to present a solid business case for why it makes sense to make the long-term commitment towards DEI helps create broad support for the initiative. The support base for DEI should not be limited to only the C-suite though. Every employee should know and understand why the shift is necessary and what it will entail.
  • Implement smartly. Making the shift to a more inclusive workplace is a significant proposition for many agencies. The process may be more daunting in its execution than it seems at the ideation stage. Knowing when and how to reach the low-hanging fruit can be critical to ensuring that effort does not diminish during the difficult periods.
  • Communicate your progress. Communicating what you are doing and how is crucial to your progress. But it is important to match words with action, so your updates do not seem performative, rather than sincere.
  • Review and adjust. Finally, keep in mind that there will be hiccups along the way. Many DEI strategies that seemed great on paper may not translate so well in operation. Ensure that a dedicated team is available to measure, review and present recommendations for tightening up these strategies on a periodic basis.

Actionable strategies for DEI growth

There are countless strategies that organizations can adopt to encourage DEI in their workplaces. In some cases, a few of these strategies will cancel each other out, while in most cases, organizations will need to discuss and adopt several of these strategies at the same time.

Regardless of how it plays out in your agency, the crucial point to remember is that the goal is to create a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. Here are some strategies other organizations have implemented, and which your agency might also learn from.

  • Hiring. Agencies need to take a continuous approach to operationalize processes that embed equity into the hiring and recruitment process. This includes overhauling the process of sourcing, vetting, selecting and interviewing candidates. Certain organizations use talent pools that provide access to diverse talent, such as Inroads or The Consortium for Graduate Studies in Management. Measures here should also include creating new metrics for hiring staff based on DEI principles.
  • Promotion. Diversity does not end with just hiring, and this is something many organizations ignore. A great way to implement DEI in the promotions process is to create clear, equitable and achievable metrics around promotion requirements. Organizations can also look to prioritize internal hiring where a diverse workforce is already in place, ensuring that existing employees have an opportunity to really grow organically with the agency.
  • Partners and subcontractors. DEI also extends to how an agency executes client work. Agencies should look at their strategic partners to see how they can work with more diverse partners to benefit their client.
  • Culture. Start by reviewing every aspect of culture, from holiday parties to the firm’s stated missions, values and principles. Ensure that these are representative of the diversity at the firm and then look to ensure an atmosphere of acceptance, openness and security in diversity. For instance, what is your agency doing for Black History Month?
  • Training. Lastly, many organizations use training programs to provide ongoing education on how to identify and avoid unconscious biases, and how to respect cultural differences. While the focus is often on providing this training for management level staff, it is important to also ensure that everyone in the organization has the benefit of DEI training.

How can your agency create and implement a plan that meets your organization’s DEI needs? Contact me to discover the possibilities for creating a truly inclusive, and sustainable workplace.

Agency Advisor :: I help marketing agencies scale their business.

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