Open letter calls for action against racism in Canadian ad industry

A new group, created to advocate for BIPOC in the field, has drafted 15 steps for agencies and marketers to address systemic racism.
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A group of industry professionals have released an open letter calling for better representation of Black, Indigenous and POC talent in Canada’s advertising and marketing industry, the first step in addressing issues around racism and discrimination that are unique to the country.

The Canadian letter is adapted from a similar open letter circulated in the U.S. that was championed by Nathan Young, group strategy director at Minneapolis-based agency Periscope, and Bennett D. Bennett, principal at independent consultancy Aerialist, and signed by 600 Black professionals working in advertising.

Many of the actions are similar to those in the U.S. letter, though include some changes in language that centres Black and Indigenous talent in the conversation, in addition to other POC. It also directs signatories to Canadian resources, like human rights training provided by The Ontario Human Rights Commission.

The steps also include an introduction that situates these actions within the context of the Canadian advertising and marketing industry, such as the fact that one in five Canadians are a member of a visible or racialized minority, which isn’t reflected in the staff at many agencies or marketing departments.

“For all the apparent progressiveness of our industry, there has been very little progress,” the letter states. “We face injustice and inequity every day and each day we are asked to do all the real work to fight it. We need that to change. We need justice, equity and inclusion. We need the industry to look more like us. We need Black, Indigenous and people of colour (PoC) voices to be sought out and included in the creative process. We need Black, Indigenous and PoC professionals in senior and leadership positions.”

Another key difference in the Canadian letter (the full text of which can be found below) is that it also includes three additional actions geared specifically towards clients. These include a pledge to only reward agencies that implement the other actions, demanding that agency teams serving their business include BIPOC and adding a BIPOC-owned agency to their roster, citing the fact that they “disproportionately provide equitable employment.”

Since the call went out yesterday, the letter has gained 20 signatories, who will be made public later today. Individuals can still sign on to the letter, and organizations are being encouraged to publicly commit to the call for equity – another key difference from the letter in the U.S.

The letter is being steered by a group consisting of Alyssa Dominique, account supervisor at McCann Canada; Stephanie Small, creative operations manager at Taxi; Julian Franklin, principal at Franklin Management Group; Justin Senior, director of sales and marketing at SAMA; Joshua Richards, director of creative technology at John St.; and Gavin Barrett, CCO and founding partner at Barrett and Welsh. Nitin Bagga, strategy lead at Barrett and Welsh, helped craft some of the language in the letter, and the ideas were developed through discussions on a 194-person LinkedIn group for POC working in the industry.

In addition to spearheading the letter, the group is also part of a yet-to-be-named organization that is being launched to represent and advocate for BIPOC in Canada’s advertising and marketing industry. Barrett says the group felt a unique letter for Canada was needed because of issues that are unique to the country – both in terms of its racial makeup and how people actually approach the issue.

“We in Canada render the problem invisible by imagining ourselves and our industry to be better than the U.S. and by believing there is no problem,” Barrett told strategy. “BIPOC professionals know this is untrue.”

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An open letter to Canadian Advertising and Marketing Industry Leaders

We acknowledge that many leaders in many organizations in our industry have made anti-racism statements and statements of support for racialized minorities and Indigenous peoples. But we need you to take a stand and not just make a statement.

For all the apparent progressiveness of our industry, there has been very little progress. We face injustice and inequity every day and each day we are asked to do all the real work to fight it.

We need that to change. We need justice, equity and inclusion. We need the industry to look more like us. We need Black, Indigenous and people of colour (PoC) voices to be sought out and included in the creative process. We need Black, Indigenous and PoC professionals in senior and leadership positions.

In a multicultural Canada where more than one in five Canadians is a member of a visible or racialized minority, we need to dismantle the industry’s oppressive monoculture that stifles the growth of Black, Indigenous and PoC professionals and restricts our ability to express our true selves.

We are asking all leaders in Canadian advertising and marketing to take the following actions to address the systemic racism in our industry:

1. Make a specific, measurable, and public commitment to improve Black, Indigenous and PoC representation at all levels of staffing, especially senior and leadership positions

2. Track and publicly report your workforce diversity data on an annual basis to create accountability for the industry

3. Audit company policies and culture to ensure the environment we work in is more equitable and inclusive to a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives

4. Provide extensive bias training to HR employees and all levels of management, and ask your teams and leaders to get simple constructive human rights training and certification such as that provided by The Ontario Human Rights Commission.

5. Extend outreach to a more diverse representation of colleges, universities, and art schools

6. Expand residencies and internship programs to candidates with transferable skills who may not have taken a traditional educational path toward advertising and marketing

7. Create, fund, and support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for Black, Indigenous and PoC employees

8. Invest in management and leadership training, as well as mentorship, sponsorship, and other career development programs for Black, Indigenous and PoC employees

9. Require all leaders to actively participate in company Diversity & Inclusion initiatives and tie success in those initiatives to bonus compensation.

10. Create a Diversity & Inclusion committee made up of Black, Indigenous and PoC employees to help shape diversity & inclusion policy and monitor its progress

11. Establish a diversity review panel to stem the spread of stereotypes in creative work and ensure offensive or culturally insensitive work is never published

12. Introduce a wage equity plan to ensure that women and Black, Indigenous and PoC are being compensated fairly
Only for clients, in addition to the above:

13. Reward only those agencies that successfully implement these demands, with your business

14. Commit to ensuring that you will include agencies that are Black-, Indigenous- or PoC-owned in your agency roster, recognizing that they disproportionately provide equitable employment to professionals from the Black, Indigenous and PoC communities

15. Demand that the agency teams serving on your business include Black, Indigenous or PoC professionals