Our industry is finally accepting that diversity leads to better creative and greater profitability, but there’s a huge gap between knowing something in theory and putting it into practice. Some agencies say they want to hire diverse talent but can’t find the candidates. Others hire diverse talent but can’t seem to retain them. If you’re struggling with changing your agency, start by asking one question: who owns your table?
The reality is, until a few years ago, Dailey was pretty white and pretty male. Then, in 2017, we had a rare opportunity to buy ourselves back from our holding company of 30 years. Two years have passed, and now we are a majority woman-owned agency with two women – Jean Grabow and myself – as CEO and President. I’m also Chinese American. Marcus Wesson, ECD at the time of the buyback and now CCO, is African American.
We didn’t buy ourselves back specifically to diversify Dailey. But once you’ve put change in motion, there are two choices: either you get spooked and skid out, or you steer into it. Our managing partners realized that we weren’t just proof that diverse people could rise in the ranks. We were in charge.
That gave us perspective on how strong the status quo is and how to overcome it. People like the familiar. Sociologist Lauren Rivera published research in 2012 that showed how often interviewers look for candidates with something culturally in common with them. When your leadership team is more diverse, the candidates you share something “in common” with become more diverse, too.
Last year, I was out on production for a couple of weeks. While I was gone 17 new hires joined us. When I came back to the office, there was a second when I didn’t recognize anyone. And what was remarkable was that many of the people who knocked on my door to introduce themselves were young, Asian-American women.
When I was new to the industry, I was usually the only one in the room who looked like me. And I can tell you that when you’re in that position, figuring out how to relate is not easy. For the most part, my bosses’ experiences were a world apart from mine – and vice versa. Maybe these young women wouldn’t have that problem. There were a lot of us in Dailey’s leadership who’d been the “only one in the room.” Now, being different was something a lot of us had in common. And I thought, “There’s something to this, isn’t there?”
Two years later, we are majority woman-owned and all of Dailey’s department heads are people of color and/or LGBTQ+. Our percentage of women of color rose from 16% to 32% agency-wide.
Creating a welcoming culture plays a huge part in retaining diverse hires. In an industry where diverse voices have been drowned out too often, finding ways to give people more access has to be a priority too.
Diverse leadership is not only more familiar with the problems that arise, but we can make ourselves part of the solution. Lately, I’ve been meeting with employees one-on-one, away from the office. I want them to know that not only are there people in leadership who look like them but also that those people are listening.
After the buyback, we also launched an internal audit. We discovered, and closed, the 25-percent pay differential between male and female employees. Pay gaps are real, and when you’re in charge of the purse strings, you have the power to set them right. Nothing is quite as compelling as a paycheck when it comes to showing employees that you value them.
So, how does an agency find these diverse candidates? If we only rely on the students coming up through diversity internship programs or portfolio school initiatives, we’re still going to have a talent bottleneck. Agencies can break down barriers and create their own pipelines. At Dailey, we have a coordinator role that we’ve used three times now to give candidates from non-advertising backgrounds a way in. We knew they could learn to work in an ad agency. The qualities we were looking for were things that are harder to teach, like aptitude and drive.
Everyone wants to be part of an agency where they can learn, create, and rise through the ranks. The future of advertising lies in opening our guest list. It’s time to stop asking how we can get more people to the table. You own the table. Now start pulling up seats.