What’s holding the diversity conversation back at agencies?

Blast Radius' Minda Sherman and The Multicultural Partnership's Prasad Rao weigh in on what's keeping creative shops in a Mad Men era.

Prasad Rao, partner, The Multicultural Partnership

If agencies accept diversity is an issue, then they will have to do something about it. It serves agencies not to acknowledge it. They have not seen any incentive to changing, nor have they seen any disincentive to not changing. Clients aren’t asking for it and agencies aren’t losing business because of their lack of diversity.

When agencies do talk “diversity,” they look at the issue in a very narrow manner, such as “we need to talk to the multicultural consumer in their language,” which can easily be outsourced – so why bother bringing the people in-house?

Finally, agencies have bigger fish to fry: online capabilities, social media, big data etc., so it doesn’t leave a lot of time to hunt for diverse senior talent.

Minda Sherman, executive VP of operations and human resources, Blast Radius

Diversity is a challenge in any industry, but there are a few reasons why it is not a priority within the advertising industry in particular.

One, there is diversity in some areas, such as technology (where employees tend to come from more diverse backgrounds). The issue is that this is not reflected at all levels and in all departments.

Second, as agencies in Canada tend to be small they are not subject to the same kinds of regulatory pressures as some other industries.

Most importantly, advertising recruitment is highly competitive with a number of competing priorities. Candidates often need the required skills and experience as well as specific category experience, and there are usually time constraints because of new account wins or replacement hires. Finding a diverse candidate who meets all the requirements can require a lead time we don’t have.

As for why people seem to associate diversity with affirmative action (or the negative view of affirmative action as in selecting less-qualified diverse candidates in order to fill a quota) this is just one of the many misconceptions people have about a controversial subject. Over the last 15 years there has been a lot of press about quotas — from university admissions to jobs in the public service — and this debate has unfortunately garnered more attention than the workaday HR practices that should and often do underpin a solid diversity program.