To Fix Workforce Diversity Problem, We Need To Solve Recruitment Problem

We have celebrated International Women’s Day and Black History Month, and we have been inundated with stories of success -- but even more tales of abject failure regarding inclusion of women and minorities in the workforce. 

The pay gap, the tiny share of women and/or minorities in senior and leadership positions, the challenges of even interesting these groups in the marketing industry: It feels like we’re not making any progress at all.

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has tracked the female and ethnic composition of its members and reported a score of 63% females in marketing departments, 31% ethnic, and 46% of females in marketing leadership roles (28% ethnic). Globally, the average for women in leadership roles is around 20%, so we are doing a little better than that. But the numbers had not significantly changed since the last measurement. 

To support progress, the ANA has launched The ANA Talent Forward Alliance, a “cross-industry initiative with the mission of creating a unified movement committed to inspiring and accelerating the development of exceptional talent -- including diverse talent -- to fuel marketing industry growth” (per the ANA website).



I think the fundamental issue is that we’re handling recruitment “wrong.”

When I consider the trajectory of my career, only my very first few jobs came from applying to a posted position. Once I was “in,” every subsequent move came from someone contacting me, or someone knowing me. I have heard the same from friends, colleagues and family members.

When you are looking for your first job, you rely on job boards and recruiter tools. When you are in a more senior role, you rely on your network. And both are biased.

Today’s job boards are awful. Indeed, Monster, Zip Recruiter and the like are all similar to when travel website consolidators, or credit card comparison consolidators were terrible.

But while some of these consolidator websites have made significant strides to improve their models, it appears recruitment industry algorithms are still firmly stuck in the year 2000. If you list yourself as a marketing director or media director on any of these websites, chances are they will serve you with every director job known to mankind in the region you select, including director of patient care at a hospital or funeral director. 

These platforms advertise themselves as taking the hassle out of recruitment, and I guess that could be true for some positions where the volume is large, and the decision is relatively uncomplicated. For finding more complex positions, though, even Amazon had to admit defeat when it recently abandoned its AI-driven online recruitment tool, which turned out to be sexist in its recommendations.

Your circle of connections on LinkedIn or in the real world is not the answer to diversity, either. If less than 50% of your leadership network is female, or less than 20% a minority, then how in the world are you going to have a useful “recommendation engine” through your network if you belong to one of these groups?

It’s clear we need a more diverse, inclusive and equally paid workforce in marketing and advertising. It is encouraging to see that our industry beats the (global) averages for inclusion. But we have a ways to go still, especially for senior leadership roles.

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