The Big Story of 2017

Here we are, on the last working day (for some of us anyway) of 2017.

It’s that time of year when columnists sit and ponder the last 365 days and declare what the biggest story of the year was.

It’s a totally subjective exercise with lots of room for debate.

For me, the biggest story of the year was diversity and gender. Harvey Weinstein simultaneously showed how far we’ve come and how much further we have to go. Women are stepping up, brushing old stigmas aside and declaring that sexual harassment (or worse) is no longer acceptable or something to be swept under the rug.

That's evidenced by dozens of subsequent cases of abuse that have been brought to light.

And I’m betting we’ll see many similar cases of bad behavior exposed in the coming year. It’s not a new issue. The difference now is abusers seem to be getting some level of comeuppance.

But progress can be measured in broader terms, as well. In its latest trends report, the JWT Innovation Group cites the resurgence of the “intersectionality” movement.



The agency notes that it was lawyer and feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw who coined the term in the late 1980s to define how identity and experience can be shaped by the overlap of race, gender, sexuality and class, resulting in discrimination or bias.  

The report states: “Now, as dialogue around the importance of diversity reaches a fever pitch, the term is resurging in popular discourse, conference panels and think pieces— both in media outlets trying to reach the highly diverse generation Z and among diversity chiefs developing employment practices.”

Earlier this year, Twitter hired Candi Castleberry Singleton as vice president of intersectionality, culture and diversity. Condé Nast recently launched the teen and millennial LGBTQ-focused publication “them.” JWT quotes its creator, the media company’s Chief Content Officer Phillip Picardi, who says the publication is intended to “‘make sure we’re inviting people to participate … Intersectionality and representation are going to be crucial to the brand’s very success and acceptance.’”

There is a growing chorus of brands that believe that, too. Look at the steps HP has taken on the advertising front. In 2016, the tech giant issued a challenge to its top agencies to improve the level of diversity staffing within the account teams handling its business.

A year later, this September, the firm reported that 61% of HP’s worldwide agency account teams consist of women, while 51% of those teams have women in senior roles. HP Global CMO Antonio Lucio has said “systemic change” is required to improve diversity within agency and marketer ranks.

HP noted that agency change over the past year was driven by 15 new programs, including recruiting processes, internal events and community outreach. Lucio also emphasized there is more work to be done, particularly with respect to minority representation on its agency teams.

Other big companies, inside and outside of Adland, have also initiated diversity programs.

Exactly how much progress has been made in this area is hard to measure, for me anyway. But the fact that companies are thinking more about this issue, and in some cases taking action, are steps in the right direction.

Happy New Year. Have a prosperous and diverse-filled 2018. The latter just might fuel the former. On many levels.


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