Sorry State of Diversity in Advertising Is Also a Culture Problem

Michael Bush, Advertising Age, January 31, 2011

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Despite some positive trends over the past year–general-market agencies are hiring more Hispanics (as they try to win more Hispanic business)–a number of watchdog groups and industry professionals still think the situation is far from good.

Though the most current figures aren’t yet available, the New York City Commission on Human Rights doesn’t seem to be satisfied with progress made since it intervened in 2006. And while holding companies say they’re making progress, the threat of a class-action lawsuit still looms.

Hiring, of course, is only part of the problem. The failure to retain minority talent, which many believe is due to the lack of an encouraging environment, is the other issue.

Carol Watson, president, Tangerine Watson, a cross-cultural talent consultancy, said she hasn’t seen dramatic differences in minority hiring over the past year but has noticed one positive trend.

“Employee resource groups and affinity groups are a big thing now for general-market agencies that get a lot of multicultural assignments,” Ms. Watson said. “There has been more hiring, of Hispanics in particular, for these groups that pitch and consult clients, discuss messaging and help identify all of the opportunities in multicultural marketplace.”

Rob Norman, CEO of WPP’s Group M North America, said diversity hiring has occupied more of his time than he thought it would since taking the CEO role one year ago. He said the agency has brought on a full-time diversity recruiter. But he said that all of the programs and efforts may never be enough to rectify the problem.

“Not only do you have to recruit people that are diverse, you have to create environments under which those people are comfortable working in,” Mr. Norman said. {snip}

Clifford Mulqueen, deputy commissioner general counsel at the NYC Commission on Human Rights, said the commission will soon be releasing a report on its investigation into the diversity hiring practices of 15 ad agencies including Arnold, Euro RSCG, Saatchi & Saatchi, Grey Direct and Grey Interactive, Y&R, Ogilvy & Mather, Kaplan, DraftFCB, Gotham, BBDO, DDB, Merkley and Partners and PHD.

After finding fault with the diversity-hiring practices at many of the big ad agencies in New York, in 2006 the commission signed a memorandum with them. The sides came to an understanding that the agencies would increase their minority hiring. {snip}

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“A court action may not be the way to go,” Mr. Mulqueen said. “It seems like they have to do something to change the entire culture.”

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