While our national unemployment rate hovers at around 9%, the rate in our industry is much lower. In fact, some people I speak with now believe that the unemployment rate in media and technology is effectively zero. They may be right. Recruiters in New York tell me that they are having challenges finding talent across the board, whether it is for sales, analytics or programming positions.
The talent crunch is highlighting our industry’s limited progress in becoming more diversified in terms of gender and race, especially in sectors like advertising technology. At a recent New York technology conference, a senior executive muttered to me, “Jesus, this place is all men.” Looking across the sea of blazers and lanyards, I could see that he was right. The fact is, most of these conferences are dominated by white guys like myself.
Many of my fellow white men are both frustrated and embarrassed by this situation. While we enjoy hanging out with one another, we don’t want to spend two or three days at a time with mirror images of ourselves at these seminars. America has made tremendous progress over the last forty years in terms of social equality. Workplaces that lack diversity are, frankly, boring and we have little interest in toiling away in “Mad Men”-like environments of sameness.
Some parts of our industry have made progress in becoming more diverse. Media agencies, in particular, have a good male-to-female ratio, especially in the junior to mid-level ranks. Some agencies still do not have enough double “X” chromosome pairs represented in their executive ranks. This will hopefully change in the coming years as many of the women hired during the 1990s and 2000s work their way up the agency ladder. Added pressure will come from corporate America (that is, the media agencies’ clients), where there appears to be a serious effort to hire more female CEOs.
Media companies also tend to be diverse, at least in terms of gender. Women have been hugely successful in media sales and are now serving as mentors to a whole new generation of female salespeople. Large publishers like Time Inc. are now led by female CEOs. Greater ethnic diversity, however, has been a more challenging problem for both media agencies and companies to solve.
Compared to media, ad tech companies have made less progress on the gender diversity front. Male-dominated engineering and sales teams are the norm right now in our industry. About the only place you can consistently find women at senior levels in many of these organizations is in marketing. On the upside, ad tech’s engineering teams are often ethnically diverse.
The most extreme diversity problem in our industry is in venture capital. This is unfortunate because it is these VCs that decide which startups will get funded to develop the next generation of media and technology products. America is a diverse country of consumers, so it would follow that ethnic and gender diversity at the VC firms would lead to better investments. While a few VC firms have added female partners, venture capital is still about as white and male an industry as you will find.
Most everyone I speak with understands that we have a serious diversity issue and that it is holding back our growth. Facebook has taught us that networks of diverse users can result in even larger networks of users. If we cannot recruit a more varied workforce, our growth will plateau.
The question is what to do about it. To be honest, I don’t have all the answers right now. Part of the solution lies in education and government policy. We need more minority mentoring programs to increase the supply of candidates. We also need more companies to make diversity a priority in order to increase demand.
What I do know is that if we can solve our diversity problem, we will enjoy unprecedented growth as an industry.