What makes someone a true champion of diversity and inclusion? Here, for the first time, Adweek, in partnership with Adcolor, sought to find out by creating Adweek Champions, an award that celebrates executives and creatives in marketing, media and technology who are committed to taking action that yields real results.
A jury composed of Adweek editors, Adcolor members and Adcolor’s founder, Tiffany R. Warren, who is the svp, chief diversity officer of Omnicom Group, earlier this spring was blown away by the impressive efforts being undertaken to effect meaningful change. From the many submissions we received, they selected standouts ranging from Saatchi & Saatchi New York CEO Andrea Diquez, who built a leadership team that is 83% female and 67% multicultural, to Petco CMO Tariq Hassan, who offered to fully sponsor two pride parades in San Diego and San Antonio.
On these pages, our inaugural Adweek Champions share their inspiring stories and more than a few indelible insights. Hassan points out, for example, that the effort toward diversity and inclusivity is not about creating moments or improving content. It’s about organizations making choices that reflect “the broader reality of the world around us.” We couldn’t agree more. —Lisa Granatstein
Valeisha Butterfield Jones
The bro culture is so pervasive in Silicon Valley, and the minority representation so infamously small, that Butterfield Jones recalls a time when she couldn’t see herself working in the Northern California startup hotbed.
“Even five years ago, I never would’ve imagined I’d have a place at a major tech company,” she says. “But I was wrong.”
As a Google executive for more than three years now, she’s helping the tech giant grow its numbers with employees of color and those who have disabilities, identify as nonbinary or LGBTQ or are military veterans.
As part of a transparency push that started in 2014, Google recently released its annual diversity report, which she says shows “incremental” change but leaves plenty of room for improvement.
Women now make up 31.6% of the global workforce (up from 30.9% a year ago), and the ranks of Asian, Latinx and black employees grew slightly. Global leadership roles for those groups also increased, though Native American representation was either flat or down in both of those measures.
“My vision is to change the face of tech to reflect its users,” she says, “and make sure the leaders have the tools to do it.”
During her tenure, Butterfield Jones has launched an educational forum called Decoding Race that brings in experts to talk about “the elephant in the room,” she says. Intended to create “a shared vocabulary and language,” the series has reached 15,000 Google employees in nine different locations with speakers like Van Jones, political commentator and social entrepreneur, and Kimberle Crenshaw, scholar and civil rights advocate. Execs are currently molding the next evolution of the project, she says.
Butterfield Jones was one of the early-stage organizers of Howard West, an intensive three-month internship more akin to a residency. In its first year, 26 students from Howard University participated in the hands-on training at Google’s headquarters. Now called Tech Exchange, it’s expanded to a full year of on-site study for students from 11 historically black and Hispanic-serving schools.
Among her priorities, along with “humanizing the data” so that senior managers know their existing talent, is telling stories of the diverse, in-house rock stars “who are coding every day, changing the world, so that young people can see themselves in our industry.”
People with Down syndrome are doomed to a lifetime of limitations, or so the antiquated thinking goes. Saatchi, in work early this year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the National Down Syndrome Society, latched onto that specific, damaging misconception and flipped it on its head in a powerful short film.
It was the agency’s sequel to a Cannes Lion-winning pop-up restaurant called C21 staffed entirely by those with Down syndrome. (That experiential activation, launched in Washington, D.C., in late 2017, has since spread to several other cities.)
The “No Limitations” campaign broke NDSS records for fundraising in a single day and bolstered the fight to reform laws that stand in the way of financial independence for people with Down syndrome.
“This community is one of the most discriminated against in the U.S.,” says Diquez, who’s hands-on with the pro-bono client. “Rather than a traditional PSA, we took a very different approach. We showed that it’s not Down syndrome holding people back; it’s the laws.”
Saatchi continues the movement (one law changed so far, and four more to go), according to Diquez, who hired an intern with Down syndrome last summer. She’s repeating the program this year, along with mulling the next steps in the NDSS partnership.
The campaign is an example of Diquez’s decisive approach to inclusion, which confronts stereotypes head-on and “mixes and matches” people for the kind of results that she says are irrefutable.
“It’s been proven time and again that a diversity of thought makes the work environment better, our clients are happier and our growth accelerates,” says the 20-year Saatchi veteran. “The business definitely responds.”
Since Diquez assumed the CEO role in late 2016, she’s built a leadership team that’s 83% female and 67% multicultural. A Time’s Up signatory, she’s taken the overall agency makeup to 66% female.
The native Venezuelan believes in recruiting from various industries, like music, theater and magazines, and from far corners of the world (she’s known for bringing in global creatives for the agency’s work for iconic brands like Tide). Building a hospitable home for talent, another job she relishes, only happens with concerted effort.
“Everybody’s so happy to talk about their culture,” she says. “You have to make them feel comfortable, help them find a community and participate. Ignorance is not acceptable anymore.”
In one of his early jobs, filing paperwork at a London ad agency, a 17-year-old Dixon asked his supervisors about the internal hierarchy. He was told that minorities weren’t likely to be top of the list for high-profile client-facing gigs.
Later, as a college student and professional rugby player, he posed more tough questions about pecking order and discrimination, and centered his master’s thesis on the psychology of racial segregation in sports. He continued that research for a second master’s degree from Oxford University.
When he landed his first leadership role in advertising, Dixon would purposely take no pages from those staid rule books. They’d served as an example of what not to do, in the office or on the field.
The British-Caribbean son of a single mom gathered creative execs from different countries to work on Wieden + Kennedy’s coveted Nike account, representing the agency’s eight global offices and proving his theory that “it’s critical to have diversity of thought when you are developing ideas.”
Moving talent (physically and geographically) through the W+K network has become one of his trademarks, with Dixon advising his mentee, Ramiro Del-Cid, to leave the relative comfort of the agency’s Portland headquarters for a job in W+K Sao Paulo a few years ago. (Del-Cid, who started as an intern, has since risen to management supervisor at W+K New York.)
Dixon, a recent speaker at the LBJ Foundation’s Summit on Race in America, is active in the Marcus Graham Project and sits on the board of Dan Wieden’s Caldera, both for underserved youth. He brought W+K London’s Forever Curious to the U.S., with workshops that help youngsters express their creativity.
With executive creative directors Jason Bagley and Eric Baldwin, Dixon has diversified the leadership ranks in Portland, with 70% of departments now led by women and people of color. Overall, the numbers have also grown, with people of color currently making up 29% of the agency, up from 19% five years ago.
“We are marketing to consumers and communities that don’t look like the homogeneity of the industry,” says Dixon, now a 12-year W+K veteran. “If we don’t look to tell stories from all areas of society, then the work we do will lose relevance and resonance.”
Rachel Frederick and Kevin Brady
There’s a degree of comfort in recruiting employees straight out of the country’s top advertising schools. But there’s a downside to the way that this form of hiring has historically been approached by many agencies, according to Brady.
“It’s an archaic system that tends to lead to a lot of cookie-cutter people,” he says, noting that the six-figure price tag of ad schools alone puts them out of reach for many aspiring ad mavens. “We have a financial barrier built into the industry.”
To widen the pipeline, Droga5 launched an in-house boot camp called the D5in10 Academy and opened it to artistic folks with no previous advertising experience. Brady likens the free 10-week crash course to a “mini version of a portfolio school,” with nearly 40 agency execs involved as volunteer teachers and advisers.
The first 21-person class, held in fall 2017, saw five of its graduates land full-time advertising jobs, says Frederick. Johansen Peralta, who Frederick and Brady met during the two-month program and have since mentored, found an internship at Tribal, which he later parlayed into a staff job as a creative designer at SJR.
This year’s group of 25 students, including a spoken-word poet, a painter, a 40-something midcareer professional and a gallery assistant at the Whitney—who were all assigned mentors—will complete the schooling by early summer, coming out with three to five pieces of finished work and loads of contacts.
The academy is one way that Droga5’s trying to bring new voices into the ad mix. “If you don’t have the world at large within your walls, how can you expect to communicate with the world at large?” Brady says.
Aside from the doors it’s opening for diverse talent, the academy has energized the ranks, Frederick says.
“Those of us who are teaching have really been reminded of why we love this business so much,” she says, “and we’ve gotten inspired all over again.”
Talk to Gould about the value of diversity, and he might draw an analogy from the animal kingdom. (Too much sameness isn’t good for the survival of any species, he says. Just look at the free-falling cheetah population.)
Or he could give an example closer to home, where Verizon Media recently hired a young, diverse Army veteran, a move that might not have occurred even five years ago, when military experience wasn’t deemed to be that transferrable to the broader business world.
On the employee’s third day on the job, Gould says, he came up with a tweak for an algorithm that ended up bringing in $1 million in revenue.
“In the past, there’s been a lot of match and repeat in hiring, but people now realize that someone coming from a different environment is an asset,” Gould says. “They can inject ideas we never would’ve had.”
Gould, a dyed-in-the-wool Marvel fan who likes to say he unleashes people’s superpowers for a living, has spent his entire career in hiring, recruiting and talent cultivation, aside from an early gig at a comic-book store. He’s logged time at the Disney/ABC TV Group, Real Networks and Yahoo with Marissa Mayer, honing his mantra: “Difference plus imagination equals innovation. And every company needs this, not just the tech industry.”
Gould has launched training on unconscious bias, with Verizon Media’s leadership going through the sessions first. The emphasis is on practical rather than theoretical lessons—“where we get them to exercise the muscle, come back and talk about how they did,” he says.
Among his other pet projects: a 10-month immersive program designed with soccer icon-activist Abby Wambach that grooms junior-level employees for management roles (about 60 workers are taking part) and a shorter version that accommodates 300 people at a time. By year’s end, it will have served about 1,500 employees.
Gould, who has helped double the number of women and diverse hires in the company’s leadership in the past two years, prefers sponsorship over traditional mentor programs because “I’m maniacally thinking of ways to advance you,” he says. “I’m basically acting like your Hollywood agent.”
Born in Lebanon and raised in the United Arab Emirates, Hassan found herself, unexpectedly, in Colorado as a high school senior trying to fit in with a crowd that was, well, foreign to her.
She managed by ditching her accent, forbidding her parents from speaking Arabic in public and, in effect, turning her back on her heritage.
“I pretended to be someone I wasn’t,” she says now. “I was as American as American could be.”
That early experience could’ve set the course for the rest of her life had she not followed it up with study at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, where having successful and confident international classmates made her rethink her hard-core assimilation.
“I found my voice for the first time,” she says. “And I decided to never be ashamed of my culture again.”
In the years since, Hassan has made it her mission to mentor scores of women, particularly those of color, Asian and Arab descent. At any given time, she’s mentoring as many as 10 women, and her budding venture as a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute will help young immigrants adjust to the U.S., with the emphasis on “maintaining their cultural identities while participating in a new society.”
As a longtime marketing exec, Hassan has used her advertising platforms to shape perceptions of women. While she was rebranding Toys R Us in 2017, she overhauled its all-important holiday catalog, doing away with segregated “boy” and “girl” sections and casting a girl as the campaign’s star. In the meantime, the Babies R Us ads included a lesbian couple for the first time.
An upcoming Citi campaign will revolve around female innovators, scientists and educators, “bringing to life the role women have in advancing economic progress in society,” she says.
Hassan, who led internal networks for women during her 13-year stint at PepsiCo and sits on the #SeeHer advisory board, spearheaded Citi’s sponsorship of this spring’s Milken conference in Los Angeles. Panels there discussed Citi’s self-published research on its gender pay gap, findings that came out as Hassan was deciding her next career move after Toys R Us.
“I give the company a ton of credit for being very vocal about this issue,” says Hassan, who’s about four months into her tenure at the financial giant. “It made me understand what was important to Citi, and it sits right in the sweet spot of what I care about.”
Members of Petco’s LGBTQ group were talking on internal channels recently about possibly taking part in a summer pride parade on the company’s home turf in Southern California.
Hassan joined the chat and, within 24 hours, stepped in with a fully funded offer: What if the company sponsored two upcoming pride parades, in San Diego and San Antonio?
It was an opportunity to let those employees and, by extension, the broader workforce know that senior managers were responding to them, he says.
“When you have people with great ideas in your organization, you need to support and advocate for them,” says Hassan, an HP and Omnicom alum. “You can establish policies and talk about inclusion, but it’s not meaningful until there are things that everyone can see, touch, feel and experience.”
Hassan, who joined the specialty retailer about eight months ago from Bank of America as part of a management revamp (including a new CEO and head of human resources), quickly set about promoting diverse workers already in-house and recruiting from outside to remold the company’s ranks.
The result, with Hassan approaching the task as he would any bottom-line business goal, is that women now fill 50% of all director-and-above positions on his marketing team, which is 60% female overall, with 43% people of color and other underrepresented groups.
Hassan, a former adman at Leo Burnett, D’Arcy, FCB and his own startup, Element79 Partners, says advertising and media have “rightly” taken their lumps for cultural tone deafness and need to make amends on dual fronts.
“We’ve had watershed moments where advertising and communications have reflected the broader reality of the world around us, but it was just that—a moment,” he says. “And I don’t think it’s a solve if the content improves but the organizations producing it don’t.”
Millennials and Gen Zers are keeping a close eye on brands, as consumers and workers expect significant movement on pay equity, representation and other hot-button issues.
“We’re moving past an era of just celebrating trying,” he says. “We’re moving to a place where those who are winning are just doing it.”
Kim knows firsthand that internships can be the perfect stepping-stone to the ad business. She did three of them herself while studying at UCLA, and she credits each with giving her the kind of insight into her own skills that she may not have learned any other way.
She spent a decade after graduation in the industry, thanks in no small part to those early foot-in-the-door experiences.
But she realized even then how few on-the-job-training opportunities existed, especially for members of underrepresented and marginalized groups. Ditto for one-on-one mentoring and other avenues that “inherently cannot scale to benefit every student or junior talent in search of guidance,” she says.
So Kim created We Are Next in 2016, aiming to bridge the divide between industry mavens and aspiring executive creative directors. Its free resources and events are available and open to anyone interested in pursuing advertising and marketing careers, which, from the outside looking in, can be equal parts enticing and intimidating.
The website features hand-selected job listings, tips from seasoned veterans and advice on both technical and “soft skills,” like time management and effective communication.
Kim describes her content, including a weekly email and podcast with nearly 12,000 listeners, as “a blend of practical advice and emotional support,” suited to a highly competitive and constantly evolving field.
Guest contributors and interview subjects, from Digitas, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Joan Creative, R/GA and Zambezi, among others, are 67% female, and 56% identify as people of color, “reflecting the diversity we want to see in the industry” and “normalizing it for the next generation of talent.”
Through We Are Next, users have landed gigs at the Ad Council, Swift, VMLY&R, Wieden + Kennedy and other companies. (Cramer-Krasselt, Snap and Warner Music recently posted jobs on the site, and there’s a list of summer internships at the likes of AKQA, Leo Burnett, Droga5 and Phenomenon.)
Kim’s goal with We Are Next has been to relieve some of students’ “anxiety, fear and confusion” about finding their place in the business and provide agencies with a budding workforce that’s “more diverse, better prepared and more informed.”
In the cacophonous run-up to Cannes Lions last summer, Lucio pulled off the business equivalent of a mic drop. As the top marketing and communications officer at HP, with Visa and PepsiCo stints in his background, he announced the results of an intense push to diversify the ranks at his company and its creative partners.
The numbers had shifted dramatically: His leadership group went from 20% female to 50% in 12 months, and women in top creative and strategy roles at HP agencies soared from zero to 52%. Women directed 59% of 53 commercial campaigns, a major stride for equality considering there were no female directors on the production roster before the effort began.
Lucio, also speaking during the festival, says HP saw lifts in purchase intent, brand preference, ad effectiveness and other bottom-line-driving measures (there was a 33% increase in revenue per impression).
“We were able to make tangible and significant progress internally,” Lucio said recently, “while encouraging the advertising ecosystem to make holistic and systemic change.”
With the #MoreLikeMe mentoring program and the first brand partnership with the Female Quotient, Lucio advanced his theory that “big numbers are driven by thousands of smaller decisions made every day” throughout a company.
Mere months after Cannes, Lucio joined Facebook at a pivotal time for the tech giant. Former chief product officer Chris Cox noted, in a Facebook post to welcome Lucio, that the exec “has been outspoken on the need to build authentic global brands with integrity and from places of principle, and also on the importance of building diverse teams at every level in the organization.”
And for context, Cox added: “Facebook’s story is at an inflection point.”
Lucio said at his hiring that he would work to “support the evolution” of one of the world’s most impactful brands, more recently adding, “With all the challenges we face, and we are working hard to address many, I believe that creating environments at a scale where people can come together to find meaning and well being is a worthy cause.”
Not to trash networking events, but Melville had something far more ambitious and less old-school in mind when he thought about bringing ad professionals together for some topical conversation.
What he co-created was the Disruptor Series, a live talk show in the TBWA lobby where he chats with an eclectic array of innovators and leading-edge thinkers like Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, television personality Wendy Williams, radio host-author Charlamagne tha God and former president of Mexico Vicente Fox.
Audio from the 45-minute discussions, which have attracted at least 2,000 attendees in the past three years, has been turned into podcasts that have logged upward of 100,000 listeners.
“It’s our way of empowering people with information,” Melville says. “It’s not a mixer. It’s a whole different take.”
He has applied that same unconventional approach to nearly every aspect of his role as the agency’s first chief diversity officer, for which there was no official job description when he arrived in 2012. He reports to finance, at his suggestion, “Because it impacts the whole corporation, not just one area,” where most diversity execs are part of human resources divisions.
And on his first day at TBWA, he led an eight-hour crash course across all departments and reframed a fundamental question for executives accustomed to reading brand briefs. What if diversity were the client, he asked, instead of Apple, Hilton or Nissan?
His internal programs, like the curriculum-based Language of Diversity, have spread beyond the company’s U.S. offices (which include Media Arts Lab in Los Angeles and ChiatDay New York) into key global markets like Singapore and Japan.
And, as he did with the Disruptor Series that invited guests from Madison Avenue and beyond, he’s moving to shake up the industry-wide supply chain with One Sandbox, in beta this spring.
The search engine, with 10 agency subscribers so far, features 250 women- and diverse-owned companies, thousands of articles, conference and event calendars and other info to link creative teams and brands with minority suppliers. (TBWA credits his work with driving $165 million of its own spending to female and diversely owned businesses.)
“Along with focusing on our own workforce, the representation there and our office culture, we need to continually think about who we’re hiring when we create media,” he says. “The goal is to help close the opportunity gap for lots of incredible, diverse makers and vendors.”
Within hours of his appointment as co-chair of the Association of National Advertisers’ #SeeHer initiative in March, Pritchard announced stepped-up diversity goals for the industry and specific ways to get there by 2020.
More ads will be evaluated for unconscious bias in portrayals of gender, race, sexuality, ability and age, for example, and more campaigns and entertainment will come from female directors (current levels are “unacceptable,” he says). He’ll urge more companies to commit to #SeeHer, diversify their own ranks and demand the same from their agency partners.
“We have a responsibility to make a difference,” he said at an ANA press conference with his co-chair, AT&T chief brand officer Fiona Carter, reiterating his belief that brands need to lead the way.
As the top marketer at big-spending P&G ($7.1 billion annually), Pritchard has been a visible (and tireless) proponent of increasing diversity in the business world, and he thinks a professional alliance like #SeeHer helps “create collective accountability, share best practices and increase positive competition around creativity.”
Shaking up the white-male-dominated status quo isn’t optional, he says, because consumers are more discerning than ever about how they mete out their dollars and their loyalty.
“Nine out of 10 consumers feel better about brands that support social or environmental causes,” he says, “and two-thirds of millennials expect brands to take a stand.”
P&G is focused on “being a force for good and a force for growth,” he says, quoting CEO David Taylor’s mantra that diversity and inclusion need to be “built in, not bolted on” to a company’s value system.
In general, Pritchard says marketers are aware of the issues and have “a lot of good intentions,” but he deems the progress “too slow in really achieving equality.”
Under his purview, P&G has launched groundbreaking campaigns like the Cannes Grand Prix-winning “The Talk” and the recent update of Gillette’s “The Best a Man Can Get,” called “We Believe,” addressing toxic masculinity. He doesn’t shy away from the inevitable controversy that comes with such boundary-pushing ads, and he hopes other marketers won’t either.
“If your intentions are good, and you have a truly human and relevant insight, those ideas will eventually prevail,” he says. “Stick with it.”
In the coming months, Univision will search for the next Latina musical sensation, debut a female-centric modern-day version of The Count of Monte Cristo and launch a culture-blending project from Queen of the South writer Arturo Perez-Reverte.
The new programming follows the network’s first leap into the supernatural, with life-after-death drama Amar a Muerte breaking ground for its lesbian love story and propelling the channel this spring to its highest prime-time ratings in years.
That the broadcaster has replaced wall-to-wall telenovelas with more dynamic, contemporary series is no accident. The change is the brainchild of Rodriguez, who also overhauled the long-running competition show Nuestra Belleza Latina, a cross between a traditional beauty pageant and America’s Next Top Model. The reboot welcomed women of all shapes, sizes and ages, swapped out a pageant expert for a plus-size judge and focused on talent and personality.
“This brand had tremendous equity, but it wasn’t resonating as much with Hispanic women today,” Rodriguez says of NBL. “We needed to make it relevant, so we pivoted.”
Rodriguez, who started as an intern 19 years ago and was promoted in early 2018 to oversee all network operations, laser focuses on “making sure our audience, which is not monolithic, is heard, respected and reflected” in the content.
That has meant tossing some old-school formats in favor of “telling stories of inclusion and diversity that we weren’t before,” appealing to viewers reared on Netflix as well as Spanish-language-TV diehards.
She specifically wanted to update portrayals of women, “accelerating some wonderful, bold stories of them as protagonists and as everyday heroes” and representing a range of females, like Ilia Calderon, the Afro-Latina anchor of the nightly Noticiero Univision.
Marketing has also evolved, with Rodriguez continuing to speak to the core fans while letting millennial and Gen Z viewers know that the channel’s “throwing out the rule book” with moves like adding curvy supermodel Denise Bidot to NBL.
Setting her sights on a career at Univision when she was about 7 years old, Rodriguez says she challenges herself and her team to “continue to serve the community in the way it deserves.” It helps, she says, that “we don’t just serve the audience—we are the audience.”
In what might seem like heretical thinking, Sims-Williams doesn’t believe in diversity training because, she says, “You can’t train people to change their minds.”
Her approach, instead, centers on creating real-time experiences so employees at Publicis Groupe—some 25,000 strong in the U.S. alone at Leo Burnett, Digitas, Saatchi & Saatchi and other agencies—can benefit in empirical ways from discussing topics like unconscious bias and cultural competency in full-day seminars.
“The business we’re in is filled with curiosity seekers, but people also need to be open and courageous,” Sims-Williams says. “When they are, they can really shift their mindset.” (The opt-in workshops fill up quickly, she says, with wait lists to handle the overflow.)
Sims-Williams, a 20-plus year D&I veteran, sets a high bar for her immersive events, like the career-focused Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit.
“We tell people we’re going to change their lives, and from the feedback and the results, we know that’s happened,” she says, noting that female employees have asked for, and received, promotions based on tactical skills they honed there and the confidence boost it gave them. “We help them see that their differences as individuals can be used to their advantage.”
Sims-Williams, who wrote the go-to resource guide “The Competitive Edge” for the 4A’s diversity committee, is looking forward to the upcoming launch of Marcel, the Publicis artificial intelligence platform teased at Cannes Lion 2017 and unveiled in more detail last summer.
The silo-busting mobile app, still in beta, aims to connect the holding company’s 80,000 global employees (across 130 countries and 200 disciplines), with the goal of diversifying the creative teams and enriching their work.
“It’s the technology that will absolutely change the game,” she says of the app, which will crowdsource ideas and open opportunities to team members at all levels in any location. “We’ll be able to get the best people working on assignments and maximize everybody who sits under the Publicis brand.”
On her watch, Publicis has debuted internal resource groups for military veterans, the LGBTQ community, young professionals, women in tech, men of color and other segments of the workforce, along with a regular CEO roundtable to check the media giant’s progress on inclusion, which, she says, is invaluable. “No plans, however great they are, can work if leadership isn’t committed,” Sims-Williams says.
A self-professed data geek, Smith-Anoa’i started compiling statistics in the mid-2000s into a PowerPoint presentation to show her senior managers the growing importance of minority consumer groups.
Her message to the C-suite: “We’re leaving money on the table, to the tune of trillions of dollars, by not programming to that wide audience.”
She can’t recall how many revisions she made to that deck over time. But after two years of restating her case, Smith-Anoa’i landed her custom-created dream job as CBS Entertainment’s first diversity and inclusion executive in 2009. “I never lost sight of the goal,” she says now, “because I knew this position was so necessary.”
In the decade since her appointment, Smith-Anoa’i has advocated for underrepresented voices behind and in front of the camera. The network’s current schedule includes The Neighborhood, Magnum, P.I. and God Friended Me, all with diverse casts and creative teams, a significant change from the much-critiqued mostly white-led lineup of years past.
Among her ongoing initiatives (like the Eye Speak female-empowerment group she co-founded), Smith-Anoa’i organizes regular meetings, akin to speed dating, between the network’s established showrunners and diverse directors who’ve never worked at CBS but are by no means inexperienced.
Her matchmaking rate is sky high at the gatherings, where “98% of the directors end up booking multiple episodes,” she says. “And it’s not for shadowing. These are real jobs.”
Events like those reinforce her mantra: “Talent is universal,” she often says, “but opportunity definitely isn’t.”
Partnerships she’s forged with Glaad and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media aim to keep broadening the scope of stories and storytellers, as does the grassroots outreach of CBS on Tour, a program she created that sends execs to schools to engage with students interested in entertainment careers. (The latter effort has translated to a 42% boost in diverse interns.)
The cultural conversation has shifted, she says, from the days where she might’ve been considered “the diversity police,” says the former publicist, who worked for Nike and the comedian Sinbad before arriving at CBS.
With the addition of different perspectives and players for CBS’ entertainment, “We’re getting better, richer stories,” she says, “and my department isn’t just being heard; it’s being used as a real resource.”
As counterintuitive as it may seem, public relations hasn’t done a very good job of hyping itself, particularly as a field for diverse talent.
“There’s a lack of awareness, and many people even today still don’t know it’s a viable career,” Smith says. “And a lot of historically black colleges and universities don’t have dedicated majors or focus areas.”
There’s also a “legacy paradigm” at work, she says, which means that so-called outsiders are hard pressed to get their foot in the door.
Add to that an environment that traditionally hasn’t seemed welcoming to candidates from underrepresented groups, and PR has found itself among the most homogenous industries around. Against that backdrop, Edelman named Smith its first chief diversity executive about four years ago. The role for the 18-year agency vet, who still handles some client duties, expanded last fall to cover Edelman’s 60 offices around the world.
One of her first moves was to build internal communities, adding groups for military veterans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, African Americans and LGBTQ employees. (There was a dedicated women’s network already in place.)
With help from some of those groups, she convened a virtual town hall in summer 2016 to discuss several high-profile police shootings of unarmed black men around the country. More than 600 employees took part in an event that Smith says allowed people to “share how they were feeling in ways that made it a really powerful exchange between colleagues.”
Smith spent nearly a year creating a mandatory diversity and inclusion training, reinforcing the message that “it’s not HR’s job, it’s everyone’s responsibility,” she says. The program has since graduated upward of 1,000 people.
Edelman, which has set a goal of 50% women in its management ranks by 2020, has edged up to 27% racial and ethnic diversity in its current workforce (from 24% last year).
Smith, who’s also an ordained minister, says those in public relations are having “more honest conversations about the historical challenges,” and the new level of attention creates greater accountability. And because PR touches so many business sectors, she says, “We can be a catalyst for others.”
Geneva White and Eda Levenson
For companies that say they don’t know where to find young, self-starting, highly motivated, creative people of color, the co-founder of Scope of Work has a ready answer: “We have 200-plus kids in our network looking for opportunities,” says Levenson, who launched the company with fellow artist and educator White in 2016. “We hear this often from employers, and we believe their recruiting strategy just isn’t deep enough.”
That’s one of the systemic problems the execs are tackling at Scope of Work, a talent development firm that specializes in finding and shaping artistic, 17- to 24-year-old New Yorkers, placing them in creative-industry jobs and continuing to support them once they land.
The startup is addressing other entrenched issues like holes in education, where public school students “may not even have one art class on their transcripts,” White says, meaning these Gen Zers would have little hope of landing a spot at Parsons or a paying gig in a creative field, despite their aptitude and drive.
Scope recruits teenagers and young adults, mostly via Instagram, and helps them develop their skills through curriculum-based programming and workshops with established professionals. Its paid fellowships (reinvented versions of traditional internships) aim to train both artist and employer to make the most of their time together. (White and Levenson published a 40-page “best practices study for positive workplace experiences,” compiled with researchers from NYU.)
A third prong of the company, representing undiscovered young creatives, is “the change maker,” White says, that couldn’t exist without the other two critical, talent-cultivation pieces—but combined, they’re “the special sauce” in building a more diverse workforce.
Scope has so far placed 23 young people of color in freelance, part- and full-time positions, including the founders’ mentee, Marinique Mora, a 23-year-old Afro-Latina graphic designer from Brooklyn who created the Scope brand identity, logo, deck and other materials at boutique agency Verdes (with an assist from its sibling, Combo).
Those results speak to the current climate, an evolution in thinking from even a few years ago, the Scope principals say.
“We’re not seeing folks interested in the Band-Aid, or in just throwing money at the problem and checking the D&I boxes,” White says. “They really want to talk solutions, and we’re inspired by that.”