Commentary

Diversity Is Our Biggest Opportunity For Growth

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.

4 comments about "Diversity Is Our Biggest Opportunity For Growth".
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  1. Rick Monihan from None, December 5, 2011 at 11:31 a.m.

    No offense, but "effectively zero"?

    I have to disagree. I know several people who are either out of work or are underemployed and having a hard time finding work in the Media industry.

    Underemployment is the larger issue, but I know people who have been unemployed for anywhere from 1 to 3 years.

    Are there jobs? Yes, but none they can or would take. One of the toughest questions I've been asked recently by friends at other firms is "what salary level should I price this at in order to generate interest?" While jobs may be 'plentiful', they are not always easy to fill.

    I certainly think diversity is a wise choice when evaluating staffing, but I'm not sure that it is the panacea you seek. The problems we currently face are tied more to overinflated expectations on the part of new entrants to the workforce, and excessive debt leverage on a national scale.

    It will be difficult to have increasing investment without an increase in savings rates, and we cannot grow savings without reducing our expectations and eliminating debt.

  2. Debra Rodriguez from Social Climb, December 5, 2011 at 1:25 p.m.

    Thanks for your excellent commentary. As a seasoned (sounds better than old) media professional currently focusing on Latino and social media marketing, I wholeheartedly agree. At a time when businesses need new clients more than ever, too few are taking advantage of the opportunities now available because of the surge of growth in the Hispanic (Latino) market. I don't think it is a conscious movement; it just doesn't seem to occur to many businesses to look in this direction. Companies with quality products or services backed by sincere (key word) caring customer service will find this market a great boost to income potential. Latina shoppers are characteristically more loyal, more apt to send referrals and… actually spend more over the lifetime of their relationship with companies they endorse. Companies that have a diverse workforce will find Latino employees to be one of their most valuable assets in the pursuit of this great new revenue opportunity! Keep up the good work! I'll be looking for more articles like this to share with my own network and clientele!

  3. Matt Straz from Namely, December 5, 2011 at 4:29 p.m.

    Thanks for your comment, Rick. Great point. There is definitely a disconnect between the available positions and what people may be trained for and what they are willing to accept in salary. For example, Buddy Media currently has nearly 50 open positions. AdExchanger's job listings are so numerous they comprise nearly half of John's daily email now. Programming talent in New York is so scarce some people are saying that poaching from other startups may be the only option to grow a team.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 5, 2011 at 6:11 p.m.

    Matt, you replied by mentioning openings in New York, but you didn't mention what they pay. First, that's New York. Second, that's New York and are they are offering a livable wage. Why can't they stalk other markets where people need the work? (Unrealistic housing costs?) Third, not so much in other markets and the pay stinks for seasoned pros. Too many times have I seen where expenses to work, especially automotive, cost more that income. As for diversity, what diversity? See CES attendance, booths and speakers in Las Vegas for a snow blizzard.

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