Last weekI had an afternoon meeting scheduled with a new colleague.  We had planned to meet at the Equinox cafeteria at Rockefeller Center, but because of all the police security in place for the tree-lighting ceremony that night, we relocated to a restaurant opposite Grand Central Station instead.

As we wrapped up our meeting, I looked at my phone and learned that the Staten Island grand jury had not indicted the police officer accused of killing Eric Garner.  From the window I could see floods of policemen around Grand Central. After paying, I crossed the street to catch a subway home. Instead I walked in on a live demonstration of protest. 

Seeing a live protest is stunning.  You can feel the weight of emotions.  Bodies, mostly white and all young, lay on the floor in the middle of the world’s most famous train station.  No one on the ground said a word.

I walked away shaken, unable to look in the eyes of the black people I passed  I noticed the ironic hypocrisy of all the police officers in the station ready to protect us. The tension in the air was thick and caked onto everyone’s faces. My commute home reminded me of 9/11 because a single emotional topic was on all our minds while we remained oddly silent.

Unlike my last column, where I buried my lead in a bowl of oatmeal, here are my two points: First, on this day Twitter established itself again as the single most influential “platform” in media.  Not only did Twitter take an essential role in the organization of the protest, it also elevated the conversation into a revealing display of truth shared all over the world via the hashtag #crimingwhilewhite. Other social media platforms capture human behavior. Twitter mobilizes it.



Second, our entire industry is embarrassingly white.

I started selling ads in 1994 at Newsweek magazine.  I started my digital ad sales career in 1999 at (later renamed IGN Entertainment). I started my media ad sales consulting practice in 2005, which affords me the opportunity to work with many different media publishing entities.

Here is the breakdown of my personal experiences working with African Americans throughout those years:

Number of black coworkers on sales team:  1

Number of black sales managers I worked for:  0

Number of black people I hired when building out a sales team:  0

Number of black C-suite executives I worked for: 0

Number of black executives involved in hiring me as a consultant:  1

Percent of black salespeople who have sat through my workshops:  < 1%

Number of black panel speakers seen at industry conferences:  1

At your next weekly status meeting or the next 100 sales calls you make, look around the room.  I guarantee it'll be a complete whiteout. 

Working almost exclusively with other white people causes our racial divide to widen as a society.  We spend most of our waking hours at work.  It’s where we get to know, and must learn to work with, people we would otherwise never talk to.  It’s where friendships are often formed, compassion grows, and teamwork is framed. 

Close your eyes and imagine what it would be like if the conference room meetings you attend were 50% white and 50% non-white.  Sit with that vision for a few seconds.

If this ratio became the new reality, our ability to truly relate to people without the identifier of color would increase, forming the foundation for positive change.  Color would matter less when seen more often.

I recently discussed this sensitive issue with another colleague in our business.  He shared a story about an HR meeting that took place years back.  After a presentation stressing the need to increase the diversity of the company, he said someone in the room bravely asked, “What’s the goal?”  They were asking what percentage or number would be considered the right mix.  The question was met with resistance and awkward silence.

My answer will incite the problem of reverse discrimination, but I don’t know how else to fix this math problem.  To me, 50/50 sounds about right.

4 comments about "#BlackandWhite".
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  1. Rodney Brooks from ToTouch One, Inc, December 11, 2014 at 2:03 p.m.

    Great post and great message.

  2. William Lederer from iSOCRATES, December 11, 2014 at 2:05 p.m.

    Kudos, Ari.

    This topic has been on my mind since late-2008 when I participated in a corporate layoff strategy session that necessarily considered various forms of discrimination. As you might imagine, the number of people of color at the managerial and executive level at this major media and marketing services company was negligible. Therefore, not having a more diverse workforce was a "non-issue". When I probed HR and my C-level peers further as to why we did not have a more diverse workforce, the consistent answer that came back: not enough relevant applicants. Other than a larger flow of Ivy, hidden Ivy, and international graduates, IMHO not much has changed since then.

    I think answers to solving this problem lie, in part, in:

    1)Sustained special effort being made to promote, highlight and give more public exposure in mainstream industry leadership development programs, events, publications, organizations, etc. to those talented professionals that come from minority cultures;

    2)Minority recruiting and training outreach needs to occur earlier than college graduation. In my case, I have been teaching and mentoring diverse college and graduate school students for the past 20 years. It works and the satisfaction you derive from it delivers a profound personal and professional ROI. One benefit for both parties: developing an appreciation for how different points of view and life experience can influence your approach to opportunity identification and problem solving.

    3)Promote in a timely fashion and pay fairly people of color. Really. Parity in our field has not yet been achieved with the majority culture. Especially if you are female. This is just wrong. If our industry improves in this area, word will get out soon enough and will act as a magnet for talent.

    Diversity pays and is the right thing to do. The sooner our industry and its leaders recognize it, the richer we and the larger culture we serve will be.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 11, 2014 at 9:02 p.m.

    Media/Technology/Entertainment is not the only business in which you see non diversity. But you are right: This time the "Revolution will be televised" and what you experienced is only the beginning and with more reasons and more vociferous.

  4. Daniel Ambrose from, corp., December 12, 2014 at 9:06 a.m.

    Well done Ari.

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