RPA has long held its “People First” mantra, looking for new ways to increase diversity within its walls. Fast forward to today, the agency has more diversity programs, content and overall conversations led by employees at every level, which I’m proud to be a part of. As an industry, we have a long way to go in increasing diversity and inclusivity in the workplace and in the work we do that reaches people across the globe every day.

For that reason, RPA created the series it calls, “Diversifying Advertising” in which we hope to generate content and events that push the industry, the community and ourselves to be change agents for diversity. As the latest continuation of this theme and in celebration of Black History Month, RPA hosted a panel to discuss the black experience in advertising, how agencies can go outside the hiring status quo, retaining talent and finally, being inclusive of talent once they’re hired.

Panelists included industry veterans who engaged and inspired the crowd of students and professionals both inside and outside industry: Kristen Atkinson, VP of Client Partnerships at NBCUniversal; Marissa Nance, Managing Director of Multicultural Content Marketing & Strategic Partnerships at OMD; Marcus Wesson, Executive Creative Director at Dailey; Rhonda Fortner, Digital Media Manager at Innocean USA; and moderating the discussion was Shanique Bonelli-Moore, Senior Director of Internal Communications at Buzzfeed.

The discussion didn’t shy away from what is often seen as uncomfortable, because ultimately, we need to get comfortable having these conversations in order to create solutions to address the issues. Here were some key takeaways from the dialogue:

 

What it means to be black in advertising

Being black in advertising means we have a responsibility. Our goal is to ensure products are representative of audiences and to utilize people of color in positive casting roles that are non-stereotypical. When it comes to the challenges we often face and barriers we have to overcome around the perceptions of people of color — it really boils down to education. Because the more we understand each other, the more we’ll value and be inclusive of one another.

 

Advice for someone experiencing unconscious bias

If you are experiencing someone’s unconscious bias or microaggressions on the job, don’t beeline for the nearest exit! Instead, use it to push you further. No magic word will make it stop and go away. Revel in it. Let it give you the energy you need to be your best self. But you need to learn how to recognize it. Be aware of who you are, and don’t become someone you’re not. Be you. Sometimes people are just ignorant; but see the bias, understand it and let it feed you to be the best you that you can be.

 

Being held to a higher standard

In 2018, there is an array of underrepresented groups that are held to a higher standard. We as women of color are held to a higher standard than our counterparts. So, if you have a big meeting, for example, do your homework on who’s going to be in that room so you know what you’re up against and what the expectation is going to be. As women of color in this industry, we are creating the standard. There aren’t a lot of people who have paved the way for us. There are standards we will be held to, but we must continue to push forward knowing that there is no precedent; we are the precedent.

 

How can we solve the inclusivity problem in our industry?

Getting to a solution starts with being open to people of all cultures and backgrounds. Include them in decision making, invest in their growth, put them in charge of teams and in positions of power and influence. Employee resource groups are important to help solve this issue as well. Organizations should have plenty of resource groups that don’t have to be broken down by color. We can learn from all types of people. Consider HBCUs, sororities, fraternities, and African American Professional Organizations as great resources for recruiting diverse talent.

 

Retaining Diverse Talent

Once you make it to the top, it would be easy to rest on your laurels. But don’t get comfortable. Work to bring people up with you. Getting resources to open those doors for diverse talent is a speed bump. Recruitment is one thing, but retaining talent is another. It’s vital to give them the resources and know-how to succeed, so we can in turn better our agencies. Make sure they have a voice and are heard. Make sure they feel welcomed. Regardless of color, you need to provide value if you want to advance within an agency. Do your job well and ask for help when you need it. The advertising industry still has a long road ahead when it comes to diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. However, it is open dialogues like these that are a step in the right direction.