While as advertisers we try to reflect society, broad generalizations and traditional assignments of these roles in advertising do something detrimental to society -- and, more importantly, to our youth. They create predetermined conceptions about certain lifestyles and societal roles.
If you are a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) teenager or young adult growing up in a low-income household, you may not be surrounded by people who are in high-income earning careers or high-powered positions, so you don’t have the exposure to be inspired to go down some of these career paths.
Then turn on a TV or scroll through social media and you’ll probably find yourself in a situation where your subconscious or conscious beliefs on what certain attainable “successful” roles look like has also been skewed.
According to a 2019 study from Adobe, only 26% of African-Americans, 10% of Hispanics and 3% of Asians feel represented in advertising, compared to 59% of Whites.
So what can we as advertisers do to flip the script of gender and race bias in ads? Well, I have some ideas.
Support, mentor, and educate youth
I have experienced firsthand how exposure and access to opportunities can have a profound effect on people in different communities. I was born and raised by Dominican immigrants in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, and my parents always stressed the importance of education. As a result of our family focus on advanced education from a young age, I earned a scholarship to a private school that gave me exceptional opportunities.
Being immersed in this culture -- of high-level academics, but also of extreme privilege -- allowed me to see the abundance of opportunities available, and also that these opportunities were attainable for me. I went on to earn an academic scholarship to Brown University, which ultimately led to my roles at renowned agencies like Young & Rubicam, BBDO, VaynerMedia, and now Mustache.
The environment you grow up in sets the tone for your personal and professional aspirations. To ensure that kids of various socioeconomic backgrounds are not limited to certain beliefs about themselves and their futures, we need to do better in terms of showing them what is possible for them.
I have been a dedicated participant in mentorship programs at various public schools in NYC. I make it a priority to expose young kids to the professions that are out there. Not many kids in these communities realize they can become an architect, work in advertising, or produce television shows.
Planting the seed in these kids’ minds about careers they can aspire to have, and that people who look like them have excelled at these careers, is an important step to empowering minority youth.
Emphasize hiring a more diverse staff to get to more diverse ads
Advertising needs to help change stereotypes, not spread them, and help open up possibilities, not close doors. In order to do that, advertising needs more diversity in both the workplace and in the content that is created.
It is likely that we won't be able to have diversity reflected in the content we create until we have more Black people and minorities working in our industry.
When agencies employ people of all backgrounds, the work that is produced is not tone-deaf, is truly relevant to multiple audiences, and champions diversity and inclusivity. Diversity in the advertising world is directly connected to business growth and success.
A brand's diversity, or lack of it, impacts consumer perception of its products or services. Some consumers may even stop supporting a brand whose advertising doesn't reflect their identity.
It's crucial to show people of color in your advertisements and campaigns positively.
One of the ways our culture systemically oppresses people of color is by not casting them in certain roles.
For example, if CEOs are almost always depicted as White males, we implicitly associate this position of power and importance with White males.
As an industry, I think we have a duty to understand how what we represent in media affects perceptions of reality that may ultimately be problematic. We must use the power at our fingertips to reflect a better perception of reality.
Be a pioneer on changing bias
It's important to mention that it's not solely in the hands of BIPOC leadership and employees to make the change. It's up to the entire leadership staff at the company to recognize and proactively implement diversity initiatives.
I have always been motivated to be a Black leader in the advertising space and create better representation in the field. So I am comfortable initiating the tough conversations and advising my colleagues on how we can do better.
Again, for me, it all starts with better representation within the advertising industry to get to better representation within ads.
It may be uncomfortable at first and could seem odd or arbitrary to focus on societal roles in ads, but advertisers need to stop doing what they have always done -- reinforcing implicit and explicit biases -- and start to lead by example instead.
While we work on hiring and empowering more BIPOC employees, there is no time, and honestly no reason, to overcomplicate the process of diversifying ads.
Plain and simple, we have to shake up the perceived societal norms. The quickest and most effective way to see immediate change is to start casting BIPOC for lead roles in advertisements.
There has been a wide spectrum of action over the last few weeks, some of it performative and some of it comprehensive. Many brands and agencies are making statements about taking action, and I challenge them to earnestly carry through and make substantive changes.
The advertising industry needs to work on who is being exposed to opportunities and hired, who is being empowered, and who is being represented in ads.
Consumers will be actively demanding and scrutinizing diversity now more than ever, and it's up to us to deliver, advocate, and bring about change going forward.