The creative team responsible for this clickbait should be sent to bed without dinner.
Campaign published a perspective from Mekawi Impact Founder Dena Mekawi, who recognizes “a lack of infrastructure for brands to authentically connect with Arabs and Muslims in America.” Um, there’s a lack of infrastructure for brands to authentically connect with any non-White audience in America. That’s the power of cultural cluelessness and systemic racism.
Reclaiming our identity: How Arab culture has been misrepresented
By Dena Mekawi
There is a lack of infrastructure for brands to authentically connect with Arabs and Muslims in America.
I have a vivid memory of being in high school history class where, like many first-generation Arabs, I had to alter my name, appearance and identify so I wasn’t a target. I navigated my childhood years yearning for a reflection of my narrative, whether on TV or in the magazines I would flip through for fashion and music inspiration.
I studied marketing and worked in the communications and marketing fields prior to starting my agency. Over time, I learned the power of advertising – the influence it has to bring cultural awareness to any group. The power of storytelling, I recognized, was immensely valuable.
My agency’s focus has always been on driving impact, but recently I have been pushing for authentic representation for my community. I noticed the challenge when pitching many corporations and brands my ideas: How can brands market to a community that has been stereotypically painted as a threat to others?
I realized that I shouldn’t take this personally, because lack of knowledge causes fear and doubt.
Early on in my career, I assumed educated people would just read up on us and recognize our true nature of peace and creativity. To my surprise, it was the complete opposite. Arabs and Muslims have typically been alienated, making advertisers hesitant to market to us.
Through years of experience, I learned there was a lack of infrastructure to authentically connect with Arabs and Muslims in America.
There isn’t any large-scale agency in the space that works with big corporations. That niche, which I authentically identify and relate to, my agency fills. My work with the United Nations allowed me to speak on global pressing issues, while gaining valuable insight on cultural competency and the social impact of business.
There is a huge, untapped market for Arab Americans to create their stories. We need to be in the meetings where decisions on campaigns relating to our culture are made. We need to be seated at the table where casting an Arab American for a role is rightfully presented. We need to fill the gaps where it’s obvious American corporations lack direction.
While I encourage corporations to welcome us, I am also pushing for our community to collectively take back our identity and paint it how we lived it – through our lens.
Dena Mekawi is the founder of Mekawi Impact.
Here’s an excerpt from an actual Adland job listing…
Required Core Competencies:
• Global Business Acumen Dealing with Ambiguity
• Learning on the Fly Drive for Results
• Developing Others’ Managerial Courage
• Continuous Improvement Strategic Agility
These bullet points underscore job hazards that await the winning applicant. Here’s a quick dissection and translation:
Emphasizing “Dealing with Ambiguity” and “Strategic Agility” means there will be no specific objectives or competent briefs for assignments. Project work orders will typically declare, “Build a website” or “Create an email stream”—with no audience definitions, behavioral insights, core messaging statements, or intended response goals. Of course, the budget and schedule will be well outside of reality.
“Learning on the Fly” means there will be no training—and zero process for anything. Every project will be the Undiscovered Country. Plus, everyone will show a complete disregard for responsibility and accountability.
As for “Developing Others’ Managerial Courage,” expect a total lack of psychological safety and plenty of fear-based decisionmakers.
It’s enough to make non-White applicants hope they experience discriminatory elimination.
The actual job listing depicted above shows all that is wrong with Adland, the current employment market, and job hunting in general.
Here’s a quick review of all that is wrong:
• Delegating the screening process to inexperienced recruiters is a bad move. These individuals tend to have limited skills assessing talent. Plus, as this ad demonstrates, they also have limited skills with basic spelling and writing. “Copy of Art Director” is not a common title—or even a title at all—and the full job description has clearly not been reviewed by a proofreader. Or a competent hiring manager. The mess appears to have been copy-and-pasted together in haphazard style. In short, applicants should realize they are pursuing a completely unprofessional and lazy enterprise.
• Related to the previous point, it’s unclear which enterprise an applicant is pursuing. Employer names include Publicis Groupe, The Makers Studio, and PXP Studios. It’s a safe bet that the three places suck. The fuzziness underscores how White holding companies have created a commoditization of talent and company—that is, people are viewed as interchangeable drones and places are all pretty much the same.
• White advertising agencies do a lousy job of defining jobs—that is, they don’t really know what they want. Instead, job descriptions are seeking mythical unicorns. For this one, qualifications open by stating candidates’ “experience spans social, digital, integrated, and holistic brand marketing across multiple brands and industries.” Plus, “Experience with production is a HUGE plus” means the candidate will be handling studio production duties too. In fact, the winning candidate will likely be doing menial labor versus omnichannel campaigns—it’ll be holy shit versus holistic.
• Finally, the listing makes no mention of diversity, equity, and inclusion; additionally, it doesn’t discuss the company’s culture or provide any incentive to join the corporate community. In fact, it’s likely that the screening process doesn’t feature any deliberate desire to find non-White applicants. This all flies in the face of the performative propaganda that is probably posted on the agency website. It’s another red flag that the place may be a hypocritical cesspool steeped in systemic racism.
Employers should not be baffled when employees are quick to quit. Relationships that start with lies and deception rarely last long.
About two years ago, Adweek—like Advertising Age—made a deliberate effort to publish non-White content under a DE&I banner. Both publications—like Adland—quietly stopped showing interest in such matters. Fade to black, er, White.
Then again, expect the annual spike of feigned enthusiasm during Black History Month.
When did wearing a hoodie officially translate to criminal and threatening activities?
AgencySpy posted on the promotion of a new CEO at The Marketing Arm. Whatever. The executive portrait, however, is peculiar (depicted above). It looks like the White advertising agency operates in an abandoned warehouse. Congratulations—you’ve been elevated to a dingy basement…?
Advertising Age published a Bloomberg News report on layoffs at Big Tech companies that have resulted in downsizing DE&I initiatives, diminishing diversity budgets, and dumping Human Heat Shields. Why, the only diverse things in this scenario are the ways that enterprises abandon their performative pledges for equality, justice, and progress.
WPP CEO Mark Read recently boasted that the White holding company has grown beyond advertising into a tech firm. So, it’s just a matter of time before Adland officially and fully recommits to systemic racism. It should be easy, as all the prejudiced people, processes, and privileges are still in place.
Twitter, Meta And Other Big Tech Layoffs Are Hitting DE&I Jobs Hard
Listings for diversity, equality and inclusion roles were down 19% last year
At Twitter, the diversity, equity and inclusion team is down to just two people from 30, one former employee said. A DEI worker who was let go from a popular ride-share company said their job search has stalled as other technology companies assess their finances. And just before getting the axe at separate tech giants this fall, two DEI specialists said leadership had stopped setting long-term goals for their departments entirely.
The layoffs sweeping the technology industry are gutting diversity and inclusion departments, threatening company pledges to boost underrepresented groups in their ranks and leadership.
Listings for DEI roles were down 19% last year—a bigger decline than legal or general human resources jobs saw, according to findings from Textio, which helps companies create unbiased job ads. Only software engineering and data science jobs saw larger declines, at 24% and 27%, respectively.
Bloomberg News identified DE&I professionals who lost their jobs in recent weeks at Amazon, Meta, Twitter and Redfin. Many said they expect their responsibilities will go to former colleagues who remain or to employee resource groups, which often don’t get compensated for that work.
A spokesperson for Amazon said the company’s DE&I priorities haven’t changed and the company remains committed to its goals. A Redfin spokesperson said the company has invested in growing its DE&I team since 2021, and despite a recent layoff the group is larger than it was at the start of 2022. A representative for Meta declined to comment.
“I’m cautiously concerned—not that these roles will go to zero but that there will be a spike in ‘Swiss army knife’ type roles,” meaning more DE&I professionals will be spread thin as they take on additional job functions, said Textio CEO Kieran Snyder. The phenomenon isn’t likely limited to tech, either, as layoffs hit other parts of the economy.
Recent years have seen a diversity and inclusion hiring boom. After Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, organizations of all stripes made promises to boost gender and racial diversity in their ranks. Dozens brought in their first-ever Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers. In the three months after George Floyd’s murder, DE&I job postings jumped 123%, according to data from jobs site Indeed.
Now, just as tech companies had started to make progress, they’re scaling back those teams before fully meeting goals or creating workforces that look like the broader US population. Meta Chief Diversity Officer Maxine Williams warned last fall that cost-cutting would slow its diversity hiring efforts.
“Cutting DE&I-oriented staff now, unless you’ve made really progress and can say ‘mission accomplished’ is not a good look,” said Angie Kamath, dean at the NYU School of Professional Studies, who focuses on workforce development. “There are some real risks.”
In some cases, companies might even backslide, said Monne Williams, an Atlanta-based partner at McKinsey & Company.
Workers are more likely to leave companies where equity efforts aren’t a priority. Nearly one in five female leaders have left a job in the past two years because of a company’s lack of commitment to DE&I, according to an October report from McKinsey and LeanIn.org. In a 2019 survey of 2,000 workers, McKinsey found that 39% decided against pursuing or accepting a job because of a perceived lack of inclusion at a company.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion can’t be a thing that you only do when times are good,” Williams said. “If it becomes a flavor of the week, then companies will lose out on talent.”
Partly at issue is that companies tend to lean on a “last in, first out” approach to layoffs, said Brooks Scott, founder and CEO of executive coaching firm Merging Path Coaching. “Companies have rushed to think of the bottom line, but whenever we try to optimize for speed, we’re probably going to skip over diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Instead, he said companies should consider race, gender and ethnicity when deciding who to let go.
In addition, organizations confronting slimmed-down DE&I departments don’t have to abandon goals altogether, said Julie Coffman, the chief diversity officer at consulting firm Bain & Co. The decisions to hire, promote and foster talented people lie across departments.
“The actual job of delivering real progress on DE&I outcomes does not reside in a central chief diversity officer or small DE&I team alone,” she said.
Advertising Age published PR puffery from Ad Council, hyping its “Tear the Paper Ceiling” campaign—featured in a previous post—which was created in partnership with Opportunity@Work and Ogilvy. To recap, the concept is designed to build awareness for degree discrimination, whereby people allegedly face bias because they don’t have a college education.
The Ad Age piece is particularly offensive in featuring executives with ties to Ogilvy and Ad Council, as well as assorted cronies. The quoted promoters gush with enthusiasm for the program and condemnation for degree discrimination. Sorry, but advertising agency officers feigning outrage over biased hiring practices involving diplomas is hypocrisy to the highest degree.
Indeed, Adland is extraordinarily guilty of showing favoritism to graduates of White universities and White ad portfolio schools. Why, the industry only recently discovered the existence of HBCUs.
Keep in mind, too, how Ad Council assigns its most prestigious assignments to White advertising agencies, while brushing crumbs at minority-owned firms.
For the folks behind the article and campaign, bullshit has no ceiling.
How You Can Tear Down The ‘Paper Ceiling’ And Uncover New Talent
By Lisa Sherman
STARs are all around us, the more than 70 million workers in the U.S. who are “skilled through alternative routes” (STARs), rather than via college degrees, and they make up 50% of the U.S. workforce.
But in an industry driven by breakthrough ideas, why is it that so many of us still screen candidates based on their educational backgrounds and pedigrees instead of the skills and potential they bring to the table? And how many leaders truly know the number of talented STARs already working within their organizations who should be given more opportunities to advance?
Last fall, the Ad Council partnered with Opportunity@Work (with the support of nearly 50 national organizations) to launch a national campaign to change the narrative around the value of STARs. With a PSA calling on all of us to “Tear the Paper Ceiling”—a rallying cry coined by our volunteer ad agency Ogilvy NY—we’re bringing attention to the invisible barrier that holds STARs back from opportunity and prevents employers from tapping into their skills.
I asked a few of our incredible partners to reflect on their involvement and the lessons they’ve learned: Devika Bulchandani, global CEO, Ogilvy; Jacki Kelly, CEO, Dentsu, and board chair at the Ad Council; Byron Auguste, CEO, Opportunity@Work; Aneesh Raman, VP and head of Opportunity Project, LinkedIn; Michelle Hillman, chief campaign development officer, the Ad Council; and Justin Hutchinson, director of business development, ThreeSixtyEight, and a STAR himself. Here’s what they shared.
Devika Bulchandani: Nothing unifies people like a common enemy. In this case, our enemy is an unseen, unspoken barrier between talented workers and the companies that need their skills. Our creative team wanted to give the enemy a name, something that we can all rally against: the paper ceiling.
Our hope is that storytellers, leaders and creative thinkers across our industry will join us in using the language of the paper ceiling to raise awareness of this issue, which is deeply embedded in hiring and advancement practices. The more people hear about the paper ceiling, the easier it is for them to remember it, recognize it when they see it and ultimately work together to dismantle it.
Jacki Kelley: Dentsu is honored to partner with the Ad Council to provide pro bono media strategy and outreach to this effort and we are committed to “tearing the paper ceiling” within our own walls.
We’ve equipped our interview teams with the tools to identify potential and to challenge their own biases by looking for culture adds, not culture fit. We’ve also launched Dentsu’s Media Experience, an apprenticeship program designed to remove barriers to entering the industry, which welcomes applicants from diverse backgrounds and experiences.
We believe in securing high performing talent that enhances our work and culture through diverse lived experiences. Skills-based hiring helps us accomplish just that.
Byron Auguste: Smart companies are tearing the paper ceiling by removing unnecessary bachelor’s degree screens and tapping into the STAR talent pool featuring a diverse range of skills for in-demand jobs. Without a STARs talent strategy, you only have half a talent strategy.
Opportunity@Work’s STARs hiring playbook and other “Tear the Paper Ceiling” campaign resources illustrate a variety of proven ways for employers to implement STAR talent strategies. This campaign also offers a platform for STARs in our partner organizations to share their own stories and lead the way. Bottom line: Companies that prioritize skills versus pedigree and proactively recruit and grow STAR talent at scale will innovate, adapt and future-proof their workforce.
Aneesh Raman: For too long, the way people got hired was based solely on the job they had, the degree they earned or the people they knew. That's starting to change, and we see it happening on LinkedIn. Nearly one in four U.S. jobs no longer require degrees, as more employers realize that focusing on the actual skills people bring to the table can solve some of our biggest business challenges and unlock opportunities for millions of overlooked candidates. These include the 61% of Black workers or 55% of Hispanic workers who are STARs, as well as the 66% of rural workers and 61% of veterans.
Adopting a skills-first approach that brings these workers into the fold will lead to more resilient businesses, more diverse teams and ultimately a more equitable labor market.
Michelle Hillman: Many communications efforts in this space to date have focused on encouraging STARs to build their skills. We’re now taking a dual-audience approach to help drive demand from the employer side. Everyone can play a role in helping tear the paper ceiling, whether we refer contacts for job openings or help interview candidates.
At the Ad Council, we’re embracing skills-based hiring, including removing education requirements from job descriptions and promoting openings across job boards that reach candidates from a wide range of backgrounds. I look forward to seeing how our industry flourishes when we all help create more opportunities for STARs and give them the chance to shine.
Justin Hutchinson: College football was a dream of mine that could have become reality, but once my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer higher education became an afterthought. After his passing, I worked at a smoothie shop where the CEO of a marketing agency recognized my people skills and offered me an internship. Five years later, I lead our business development department. ThreeSixtyEight developed the campaign website, and our client was so moved by my story, they featured it in a PSA.
STARs like me are everywhere, and it only takes one person to advocate for us so we can show what we’re capable of. I encourage you to be that person in your workplace, and I encourage STARs everywhere to know their worth and go after these opportunities when they come up.
To learn more about this campaign and how your organization can tap STAR talent, visit TearThePaperCeiling.org.
Here’s another belated MLK Day thought for the day…
To commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2023, the King Center presents a celebratory theme: “Cultivating a Beloved Community Mindset to Transform Unjust Systems.” The strategic rationale includes:
The pioneering work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrated that Kingian Nonviolence … is the sustainable solution to injustice and violence in our world, ultimately leading to the creation of the Beloved Community, where injustice ceases and love prevails.
The persistent challenge in Adland is that the industry represents a community where the beloved members are ranked according to White privilege.
The U.S. Adland Beloved Community Org Chart looks something like this:
It’s difficult to create the Beloved Community in an environment where injustice prevails and love ceases to be extended based on one’s proximity to Whiteness.
And it sure doesn’t help when such matters are only considered for a single day of the calendar year—if at all.
The Drum published a perspective from Clean Creatives Director Duncan Meisel, calling out the contradiction of Edelman presenting an annual “Trust Barometer” while engaging with Big Oil companies and lobbying organizations “that promote climate misinformation and denial…”
Well, it’s hardly the first time that Edelman has displayed hypocrisy and shady behavior.
After all, the place pontificates on DE&I, despite having leadership that looks like a typically and predominately White clan.
White advertising agencies are inherently untrustworthy and rooted in lies. Those that started as PR firms—such as Edelman—add another level of spin and deception.
The Edelman website features an entire section under the banner of trust. Yet a search for “integrity” yields few honest results.
Why Edelman’s Trust Barometer is undermined by its work with fossil fuels
By Duncan Meisel
Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer earlier this week revealed the public’s waning trust in major institutions but, campaign group Clean Creatives director Duncan Meisel believes the PR agency’s relationship with Big Oil undermines trust in the brand.
Every January since 2000, Richard Edelman, CEO of the comms giant named after him, has shared Edelman’s premier report: The Trust Barometer. This annual survey of tens of thousands of people worldwide is a guidebook for the major social issues business leaders need to face and features strategies to rebuild trust in a social and political environment that sorely needs more of it. This is a valuable contribution to the business community and PR practitioners.
The biggest problem with the Trust Barometer today is its messenger: Richard Edelman and Edelman itself. For most of the past 23 years, Edelman has taken more contracts with fossil fuel companies and lobbying organizations that promote climate misinformation and denial than any communications agency on the planet.
Edelman booked $440m in contracts with The American Petroleum Institute (API) at the same time the group was funding climate deniers. It currently works with Saudi refining and chemicals giant SABIC, as well as Shell, Exxon and others who face numerous legal and regulatory actions over their misleading statements about climate change. Up until 2021, it worked with America’s most vocal defender of polluting cars and dirty refineries, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Association.
Edelman has faced public protests, employee revolts, and consistent negative media coverage over its fossil fuel work for at least a decade. The backlash is not a surprise: according to the 2023 Trust Barometer itself, climate change is the number one “existential social fear” facing the global public today. Furthermore, “having a societal impact is a strong expectation or deal breaker when considering a job” for 69% of employees.
72% of the people surveyed in the Trust Barometer say it is the obligation of CEOs to “defend facts and call out questionable science used to justify bad social policy.” When its work with polluters is called into question, Edelman tends to defend their contracts by saying that they are helping those companies in the climate transition.
However, there is no evidence that Edelman’s fossil fuel engagement strategy is working. In fact, we have gigatons of evidence that it is failing: every known Edelman client in the fossil fuel industry is polluting more carbon than when they began working together. Claiming to be a part of an energy transition while working for polluters is exactly the kind of questionable fact businesses should be calling out, not promoting.
Listen to the experts
The most trusted voices identified by the Trust Barometer in 2023 are two groups that Edelman has stridently ignored: scientists and NGO leaders. Over 450 scientists have called on advertising and PR companies to drop fossil fuel clients, along with dozens of climate justice NGOs.
The core of the Trust Barometer’s offering is that it provides a strong research basis for leaders to make ambitious moves to address the issues that matter most to the public. It’s a playbook for bold action. On climate, Edelman says six point five times more people want ambitious leadership than are worried about companies doing too much, a higher ratio than on any other issue researched.
Right now, the leadership of Edelman is refusing to put its own advice into practice. If this continues, the credibility of the Trust Barometer will decline, with real costs for the communications industry, and business executives who want to lead on major social issues.
After more than a decade of controversy – a decade that also was the hottest in recorded history – CEO Richard Edelman has all the information he needs in Edelman’s own reporting to make the call to drop fossil fuel clients. Ending work with polluters would restore trust in his own brand, and make the next edition of the Trust Barometer the most compelling one yet. We trust they’ll see the light...
Duncan Meisel is the director of campaign group Clean Creatives.