What real inclusion looks like in marketing

A cross-disciplinary group discusses how a lack of meaningful action affects the day-to-day life of talent and the work they put out.


“Diversity and inclusion are not the same thing.”

Ishma Alexander-Huet has been in media for 20 years. Currently VP of client advice and management at Initiative, Alexander-Huet is a passionate strategist who loves helping younger talent develop. But in the last several months, following the police killing of George Floyd and renewed attention toward the global Black Lives Matter movement, Alexander-Huet has found herself more vocal in expressing a need for change within the marketing and media industries.

And while the word “diversity” has been in the forefront, she stresses that it’s about more than simply bringing in diverse talent – it’s about making sure they have a key seat at the table, with a share of voice that is equal to their white counterparts.

She’s not alone. With BIPOC talent under-represented, particularly in management and senior decision-making roles, there have been increased calls for more accountability across organizations, and new initiatives to help elevate the voices of BIPOC in the industry.

In the latest MiC and strategy roundtable, we gathered four senior agency professionals to discuss their experiences in the industry, and to understand the impact of unconscious bias – how it plays out in day-to-day agency operations, and how it also plays out in the work that those agencies put out.

Along with Alexander-Huet, we spoke with Maxine McDonald, senior director at Media Profile and co-founder of the Code Black Communicator Network, Dhaval Bhatt, creative director at Rethink and Mark Harrison, founder of the T1 Agency and founder of the Black Talent Initiative.

The four discussed the key difference between diversity and inclusion, where gaps exist when it comes to race-conscious planning, why simply adding token BIPOC into ads is not enough and why Black people’s contributions as culture creators aren’t often reflected at an agency level.

Check out part one of our roundtable below, along with some highlights from the discussion. Part two, which focuses on what agencies can do right now to affect change, will be posted tomorrow.

On creating an agency culture where everyone fits

“Any workplace takes the shape of its leadership team. Their characteristics, even down to their personal traits – that energy goes all the way down to the agency. I think it underscores the importance of diversity versus inclusion. Just having different faces at all levels, versus having them in levels where it matters, where the voices can be [heard] all the way from the top down.” – Bhatt

On hiring, internships and barriers to entry

“Within the conversation around racism and equity, we need to acknowledge the fact that there are very specific ways that it affects Black people and Indigenous people. When we talk about diversity and inclusion, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. When it comes to those two communities, the initiatives have to be very specific. I think hiring is the lowest common denominator. Even in the creative space, it’s crazy to me that Black people index so low when the Black community is the catalyst for culture.” – McDonald

On representation in creative

“‘Normal’ is still the middle-class white family that we saw in ads 20 years ago, and we’re [now] just re-inserting other people without bringing the culture that comes with it. And when you’re missing the culture, you’re missing what we really bring to the table. It’s not just our colour.” – Alexander-Huet