Tuesday, July 08, 2008

5673: Not Meeting Expectations.

From The Big Tent At AdAge.com…

Agencies Have Funny Way of Showing ‘Commitment’ to Diversity
Don’t Be Surprised When the Lawyers Start Knocking on Your Doors

By Ken Wheaton

The New York City agency world should be ashamed of itself.

The New York City Commission on Human Rights held a public meeting Monday night regarding the issue of diversity in the advertising industry. A rough count of those sweltering in the close quarters of a conference room on Rector Street showed 27 people in attendance. It’s hard to say what was more discouraging: that of the 27, three were members of the commission, two were lawyers and three were journalists; that of the six white people in attendance, two were members of the commission, two were lawyers and one was a journalist; or that in an industry this size, on an issue this public and this important, a turnout of 20-some-odd people was considered a success. (And before anyone starts griping about other representation, there was one Asian-American woman in attendance and no Hispanics. But let’s be honest: From the start, this has been predominantly a black-white issue.)

More embarrassing and much more troubling? Of the 16 New York ad agencies that have had their dirty laundry aired by the commission -- and of those many, many other agencies that hide behind the other 16, thinking “Better them than us” -- exactly two, Arnold and Saatchi, had representatives in attendance.

There may have been some confusion about the nature of this meeting. Commission Director of Communications Betsy Herzog indicated that it wasn’t exactly meant to be a public spectacle (though it was advertised in Ad Age) and that the commission wanted attendees to feel comfortable airing their grievances. One of the agency representatives mentioned that other agencies didn’t want representatives there for fear of intimidating those gathered.

But at this point, these meetings should be more than an opportunity for middle-aged black men who are at their wits’ end and have nowhere else to turn to air their grievances to one another.

To quote industry gadfly Sanford Moore, “This ain’t kindergarten.”

Maybe those in attendance would have been less inclined to speak if agency representatives were there, but that’s highly unlikely. These men aren’t shrinking violets. Besides, none of them work for agencies at the moment.

And that’s the stark reality of the situation that agency executives don’t want to face. Undoubtedly, some agency executives might be surprised that their attendance was expected. After all, hasn’t a panel been convened? Haven’t diversity initiatives been started? Haven’t those shops on the list played along, sharing their minority hiring goals and retention rates?

That’s not enough. Not even close. (And no offense to the men and women toiling away on agency diversity issues, but it’s not you who need to be at these meetings; it’s your bosses and your bosses’ bosses.)

Ultimately, white people run this industry, and there should have been more white people in that room.

[Read the full perspective here.]

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