Cultural Transformation: Why CMOs Aren't Solving a Decades Old Problem

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, global consulting firm McKinsey & Company published “The Changing Face of Marketing,” a landmark white paper analyzing both industry and societal shifts that promised to transform consumer marketing. McKinsey at the time was advocating for a total approach to the New America versus an ethnic focus approach to marketing. CEOs instead chose an ethnic approach to capturing their fair share of this new middle class and it is still the approach that most Fortune 500 corporations operate from today.   

From a consumer preference for product rental instead of ownership (think Uber vs a car purchase) to the trend toward market globalization (hello, supply chain issues), the findings and predictions of the report were prescient in many ways.  

Of the white paper’s most visionary forecasts was its emphasis on a variety of demographic changes to come in the following decades. From the evolution of advertising to women to the focus on reaching the Black consumer, shifts in gender and racial demographics have been at the forefront of integrated marketing strategies over the past 50 years.  



But while the agency world has been a leader in marketing to multicultural audiences, it has lagged behind in diversifying its own ranks. A 2020 Association of National Advertisers report found that the industry remains overwhelmingly white and male dominated. Of Chief Marketing Officers industry-wide, only 3% are Black, 4% are Latinx, and 5% are Asian.  

How does an industry that is on the cutting edge of diversity efforts externally fall so far behind internally? Why has the agency world struggled to make its workplace as inclusive as its client campaigns? How can Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) inside agencies evolve with the times? 

The marketing industry needs a new approach that goes beyond addressing the symptoms of a lack of diversity but solves for the underlying cultural underpinnings that are essential to affecting meaningful change.  

But before that’s possible, it’s crucial to understand the cultural changes required for a new change approach. 

A New Approach for a New America 

In order to build a culturally inclusive environment for all employees, agencies must be reflective of a New America and acknowledge the underlying cultural underpinnings and evolutions that are essential to driving meaningful and sustainable change in the workplace. 

Here’s why: 

  • · Racial inclusion is just the beginning. In order for the agency world to fulfill its role of diversifying internally and externally, leaders must consider ways to increase cultural and economic inclusion as well. 
  • · Workplace demographics have evolved. Women now represent over half of the population and by 2040, white Americans will represent less than 50% of the U.S. population.
  • · Systemic change is mandatory. The structures, strategies, systems, ideals, missions, and vision statements of much of the industry were developed for what was once Old America and not designed for New America. 

A Five-Part Framework for Systemic Workplace Change 

A change management approach is essential for building a workplace of sustainable and scalable cultural inclusion. Leaders can start by assessing the cultural maturity of their organizations at the intersection of the Five S’s: Structure, Strategy, Segments, Systems, and Solutions.


Is there full buy-in on the value of pursuing cultural inclusion across your organization?


Has your company implemented strategies and shared best practices to support an inclusive workplace at every employee level?


Have you explored the various demographic segments of your employee base, and the intersections therein (i.e. Latinx + Millennial), in order to ensure that they are appropriately represented at all levels of employment?


Has your organization adopted systems and change management software to ensure that cultural inclusion strategies and best practices are easily implemented company-wide and sustainable? 


Has your organization set standards with business partners to make cultural inclusion core to your hiring and retention processes?  

Marketing leaders have the opportunity to lead on DEIB within their workplaces. Closing the cultural gap between the workplace and marketplace requires a reframing of DEIB through a change management approach that ensures a sustainably inclusive work environment for all stakeholders.


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