Monday, March 13, 2006
The email below appeared from AdAge.com last week. The MultiCultClassics response directly follows…
THE AD AGENCY RACIAL DIVERSITY PROBLEM
Be Part of the News
VOTE IN THE AD AGE WEEKLY ONLINE POLL
> BACKGROUND: Ironically, the ad industry, which crafts the blizzard of messages that shape this diverse nation’s image of itself, has long been criticized for its own lack of diversity. That racially charged issue has been hovering in the background of the business since the 1970s, when New York City’s Commission on Human Rights first went public and forced three of that era’s largest agencies to agree to do something about it. But decades later, according to New York City Council Civil-Rights Committee chairman Larry Seabrook, the racial balance within advertising agencies has not only NOT gotten better, it’s gotten worse. (See this week’s “Ad Industry’s Minority-Hiring Practices Called a New York City ‘Embarrassment’” -- http://www.adage.com/news.cms?newsId=48142). The initial wave of comments that have come into the Ad Age poll since Monday clearly show a sharp divergence of feelings within the advertising ranks. One voter wrote, “If white women are still struggling to break through the glass ceiling -- especially in creative departments -- I can only imagine how it feels to be a racial minority in this white, alpha-male-driven industry.” A second countered, “Advertising is very special because people are hired on their talent, not race, not gender, and not looks… Besides, should minority agencies be forced to hire more white people?”
Clearly, the advertising industry and its trade organizations have made some earnest efforts to address this complex issue over the years, but do YOU think they have done enough and, more importantly, as an insider, can you suggest practical measures that might help mitigate this continuing problem?
> THIS WEEK’S QUESTION: Are there too few minorities in the New York advertising industry?
> VOTE & COMMENT for possible publication in next week’s print edition of Advertising Age at http://www.adage.com/poll.cms
There are traces of cluelessness, clichés and bias in the AdAge email. A fair amount of bullshit, too.
For starters, if New York City’s Commission on Human Rights called out Madison Avenue way back in the 1970s — and even industry leaders realize little visible progress has been made over the past three decades — why hasn’t anyone been reprimanded? The clients who employ these ad agencies would never get away with such arrogant resistance to change. Activist groups, government institutions and the public would demand immediate action. But the ad industry takes advantage of its incognito status; that is, the industry knows most people are relatively unfamiliar with and unaware of the existence of ad agencies. So with no real pressure to do the right thing, the industry proceeds to do nothing.
The “sharp divergence of feelings” reveals the bias still runs rampant. To proclaim “people are hired on their talent, not race, not gender, and not looks” demonstrates some truly outdated thinking. Sadly, this statement has been made in nearly every industry slow to embrace diversity. See Major League Baseball or the National Football League for relevant comparisons. Yet when industries choose to attack historical discrimination, there is ultimately indisputable evidence that minorities do not fail — in fact, they succeed beyond everyone’s expectations. Why do we permit obsolete, stupid arguments to flourish in a community allegedly based on breakthrough ideas?
“Besides, should minority agencies be forced to hire more white people?” is a question that also displays stereotypical and disturbing beliefs.
The truth is, minority agencies are hiring more white people than majority agencies are hiring non-white people — and they’re being forced to do it partly because the industry has done a remarkable job of discouraging minorities from even considering advertising careers.
Plus, if minority agencies do hire disproportionate numbers of minorities, it’s because they’re seeking experts who can relate to and reflect minority targets. Mass market agencies might consider similar tactics — although this would require realizing the mass market is no longer predominately white.
Sure, many will insist you shouldn’t have to be a minority to communicate to minorities. And that’s true. But you also shouldn’t be culturally clueless when communicating to multicultural audiences. And that’s a big dilemma no one seems to want to recognize.
The following paragraph demands serious dissection:
“Clearly, the advertising industry and its trade organizations have made some earnest efforts to address this complex issue over the years, but do YOU think they have done enough and, more importantly, as an insider, can you suggest practical measures that might help mitigate this continuing problem?”
First, somebody PLEASE provide examples of the clearly “earnest efforts to address this complex issue over the years.” Granted, “earnest” is a highly subjective word. But even leaders of the AAF confess the complex issue remains unresolved and poorly addressed.
Second, why does AdAge ask, “…do YOU think [the advertising industry and its trade organizations] have done enough…” when most industry bigwigs already admit not enough has been done. The mere question insults everyone’s intelligence and the integrity of critics like Larry Seabrook.
Third, history has shown insiders who suggest “practical measures that might help mitigate this continuing problem” may look forward to being completely ignored — and often shunned. See Hadji Williams for input here. Additionally, calling it a “continuing problem” contradicts the earlier question of whether enough has been done. Nice writing for a publication specializing in communications.
Finally, THIS WEEK’S QUESTION is thoroughly ignorant. If the answer were anything but a resounding yes, would this even be a topic for discussion?