In 1995 Ed Wax, then CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, drops the bomb: Mix up industry peeps to mirror the U.S. ethnic population by 2005—and we’ll party like it’s 1999. Word.
In 2004 Wax’s Dream is not only unrealized, but Saatchi & Saatchi’s New York office is embroiled in a potential racial discrimination lawsuit.
It makes me wanna holler.
Miller Brewing Co. apologizes for failing to give props to African American artists on its series of commemorative rock ‘n’ roll cans, despite the brewer’s sponsorship of prominent black performers in related concert promotions. Is it a Freudian slip that Elvis Presley and Blondie got cans instead of Chuck Berry and James Brown?
Welcome to Miller Time—unless you’re an African American.
Interpublic Group launches a program in which ten minority interns rotate like Ruby Bridges among seven IPG shops. Given that these agencies probably employ scores of interns annually—and possibly hundreds throughout the IPG network—showcasing this program is like bragging about sending a loaf of Wonder Bread to Sudan.
IPG efforts 2B PC R BS.
Sears Roebuck & Co. decides to desegregate and/or disintegrate its multicultural unit. Quiet as it’s kept, minorities make up the majority of Sears’ customer base in key regions. So maybe the faltering retailer should’ve eliminated its general marketing divisions instead.
Ironically, the good life is no longer guaranteed—and it doesn’t reflect real life.
Young & Rubicam’s Chairman-CEO Ann Fudge expresses surprise at the advertising industry’s “dearth of diversity”—and the trade publication covering the story uses the headline, “Death of diversity.”
Proofreading is a terrible thing to waste.
Brown & Williamson receives heat for hawking its Kool cigarettes with hip-hop imagery.
Too bad—Kool Moe Dee really needed the work.
Nielsen Media Research gets caught allegedly undercounting minorities.
Was Nielsen operating with some twisted version of the Three-Fifths Compromise Agreement?
Waffle House faces a lawsuit for discriminating against black customers in Georgia.
Insert your own clever references to Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth.
News stories involving diversity—and its ugly companion racism—usually only appear in advertising trade publications during the two months designated to Black History and Hispanic Heritage. Maybe it’s a twisted sign of progress that the topics are now routinely appearing throughout the year. Or perhaps it’s time for open and honest discussions, followed by deliberate and measurable actions.
Advertising agencies and advertisers alike appear to be equally disinterested in equal opportunities and diversity. Sadly, corporations like Sears have never been able to execute radical change in any area, much to the delight of Wal-Mart, Target and other successful competitors. But even more disturbing is the inability of advertising agencies to do the right thing, given their self-proclaimed liberal tendencies, cutting-edge cultural savvy and semi-proactive nature.
Industry leaders allegedly brainstorm for ways to attract minorities to the business. Though in most cases, they wind up hiring minorities to brainstorm for ways to attract minorities to the business. But no one wants to admit that our true actions—whether calculated or not—actually discourage minorities from seeking advertising and marketing careers. With the exception of mailroom opportunities (and it’s no wonder that DDB’s Office Max character was inspired by the agency’s mailroom staff), the prospects of succeeding in advertising for non-whites are slim like Shady, if you know what I’m saying. And minorities know what I’m saying.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re in an evil industry, filled with hateful, genocide-scheming racists. In fact, it’s unlikely that the investigation by the New York City Commission on Human Rights will uncover any illegal activities—especially given the complicated ways of our justice system. But to deny that there’s a serious problem requires high levels of apathy and ignorance.
So when’s the last time you checked your apathy and ignorance levels?
Apathy runs rampant in the wake of restructuring and downsizing. Industry leaders focus on revenue to the point where billable hours are more important than big ideas. It’s all about making profits by any means necessary. We’re constantly seeking to generate maximum results with the minimum amount of time, money and people. As a result, everyone’s professional and personal priority lists probably don’t even include dealing with diversity. And given the lousy job market, it’s almost understandable. Diversity, affirmative action and quotas were all good when jobs were plentiful. But now it’s a dog-eat-dog world, dawg.
Why is apathy so insidious? Because it inevitably leads us to believe that diversity-related issues are not our problem. Instead, we may believe these issues need to be handled by minorities and Human Resources managers. Unfortunately, our inability to see our collective contributions to the dilemma only compounds matters. It may be inconvenient and uncomfortable, but we all need to work together to achieve real progress.
Ignorance is a harsh word. It makes people feel insulted, angry and defensive. But ignorance is at the very heart of this entire mess. So let’s come to grips with it sooner than later.
In 1997 Lawrence Otis Graham wrote Proversity, the title being a term the author coined to stand for Progressive Diversity. In the book, Graham identified three types of bias: Active Bias, Passive Bias and Deceptive Bias. Active Bias refers to blatant and open displays of biased behavior, where all parties are aware of the bias (for example, the Ku Klux Klan would fall into the Active Bias category). With Passive Bias, the source of the biased behavior is unaware of their bias, but the other involved parties are very much aware (the aforementioned Miller Brewing Co. incident might be an example of Passive Bias). Deceptive Bias entails the biased party being aware of their attitudes and actions, but the other involved parties are unaware (sorry, but offering examples for this category might result in accusations of defamation).
If you follow Graham’s line of thinking, you’ll probably decide that there is little Active Bias in the industry. And let’s hope that Deceptive Bias is an extremely rare occurrence (although it’s likely that minorities perceive many attempts at Deceptive Bias). The majority of our diversity issues fall into the Passive Bias realm. In other words, most of us are unintentionally insensitive on the cultural tip.
What distinguishes Passive Bias from the other types is that it’s not based on malicious or sinister motives. Again, it’s essentially a matter of being unfamiliar with each other’s traditions, attitudes and life experiences.
To be clear, biased behavior—whether active, passive or deceptive—is not exclusive to non-minorities. Behind closed doors and off the record, whites employed at “multicultural” shops will readily admit to experiencing biased behavior that would qualify as reverse discrimination. These rare individuals probably have a better perspective than anyone on what minorities face in general market agencies. Additionally, biased behavior is even present within ethnic groups and/or groups sharing cultural characteristics (i.e., religion, race, lifestyle, etc.).
So if just about everyone displays varying levels of Passive Bias, how can we create open, honest and inclusive work environments? By being open, honest and inclusive. By making an effort to get to know each other. By starting meaningful dialogues that foster personal and collective growth. By showing the courage to step outside of our own cultural comfort zones. By trying to understand and respect our differences. By finding commonalities and shared values—and ultimately teaming up to achieve shared goals.
That’s all there is to it. Did I lead you to believe there might be a more unique, insightful and breakthrough answer? My bad. Plus, I swiped most of the advice from Graham (not to mention Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Gandhi, The Dalai Lama and my mother).
But don’t expect to fix things immediately. These issues have festered over generations. The solutions may take just as long to execute. Perhaps it’s best to realize this will be an ongoing and dynamic process, filled with endless curves and gyrations. But let’s agree that procrastinating or ignoring things are unacceptable responses. Any initiatives we define as “baby steps” should be frowned upon too. Revolution and radical change are much more inspiring concepts to embrace. If you can’t handle revolution and radical change, you really need to find a new line of work.
Here’s a final thought to consider: Will continued inaction make our Passive Bias appear to be Active or Deceptive?