It’s Not a Recruitment Issue. The Ad Industry Needs Diversity Advocates in the Workplace

Go beyond the numbers and make real room

A single opportunity or referral can help open the door to a path of success. - Credit by Kacy Burdette
Headshot of Corean Canty

Studies show diversity matters. Ethnic and gender diversity correlates to increased performance and profitability. It also creates an enriched work experience. Companies are understanding the importance, yet there are still many challenges with achieving a truly diverse workforce and creating environments where diverse employees feel like they can thrive and belong. Having advocates for diversity in the workplace is crucial to not only improve the employee experience but build a thriving, inclusive company.

I was fortunate that my first job was at a Black-owned radio station in my hometown. The owner, Helena DuBose, and program director, Brant Johnson, changed my life. They not only mentored and guided me at the radio station, but they also sponsored me in the industry, leading to opportunities at major record labels and distribution houses. When I left the radio station, they continued to support me for the rest of my career, and I can still count on them for guidance.

As I entered the advertising world, I had a quite different experience. There were very few people in the room who looked like me, especially at an executive level. The first Black executives I worked with beyond radio and music were my clients. They saw something in me beyond our partnership and helped me understand the challenges I would face and adjustments I would have to make to navigate the corporate world as a Black woman looking to succeed. Over the years, one thing I have learned is clear: You need more than just a diversity program.

If your only executive of color leads diversity, that’s a problem.

More than recruitment

Many diversity programs focus on increasing diversity numbers, which is greatly needed but doesn’t solve the problem alone. Recruitment and hiring programs help fight the systematic and systemic blockers that have long hindered success and inclusiveness. To truly transform your organization and reap the benefits of being a diverse and inclusive company, it’s critical that key roles and functions where bias can have the largest impact, such as executives, leadership development, tech and human resources, not only have sensitivity and unconscious bias training, but also diverse people in these roles. If your only executive of color leads diversity, that’s a problem.

With the impact of the Covid-19 crisis this year, not only are we seeing the loss of jobs all around, we are seeing a heavy impact on people of color and the loss of diverse leaders. As companies look to recover, recognizing there is no shortage of diverse talent across all levels and being intentional in recruiting is extremely important. Executives and hiring managers, many of whom have historically been white men, tend to hire others who look like or are similar to them. This is a good time to evolve hiring practices and ensure you have the tools in place for diverse employees to thrive.

In addition to intentionally hiring for a more inclusive future, it’s important to intentionally integrate diversity, inclusion and belonging into overall culture and business practices. The goal isn’t only having a diversity program, it’s to ensure you create a work environment where inclusion and belonging become part of the fabric. There are many ways to go beyond the numbers and start to make this future a reality.

Mentorship, sponsorship, advocacy and allyship

All are needed. Early in my career, while working at an agency, I experienced the impact of all four through a single ally that pivoted the trajectory of my career. As my manager, she provided the mentorship and allyship I needed to get the development opportunities and exposure to excel. Before she went on to pursue her own career growth at another company, she recommended me to lead one of the most significant new client opportunities. That single opportunity sent me down the path to achieve the level of success I have today.

Understand the importance of referrals. There are many studies that speak to referrals being a powerful tool in the workplace, but women and people of color are significantly less likely to receive an employee referral. Employees who receive referrals are more engaged. With referrals as the source of many new job offers, intentionally integrating diversity and inclusion in your referral programs will help significantly increase your candidate pool.

It’s also important to create space for advocates. Develop formal channels for diverse networks and networking opportunities. Encourage advocates to lead diversity task forces to ensure integration into business practices. These tools accelerate true diversity, inclusion and belonging in your organization.

Lastly, encourage inclusive socializing. Leading a company that has been fully remote for over 12 years, we’ve developed many ways to not only bring people together across teams and functions but also include our families for things like Family Fun Fridays and Life Hacks video calls. We get together in person twice a year and create a variety of events and inclusive activities for all of our employees to engage with and get to know each other. Creating spaces for authentic engagement positively impacts the work experience on many levels.

Moving beyond traditional diversity programs to include space for advocacy, engagement and integration of inclusion into the way you do business will foster a productive workforce where employees feel they belong and can thrive. By allowing diversity and inclusion to grow and thrive through these programs, we can create a more inclusive future in the workplace.


@ccanty Corean Canty is chief operating officer of Goodway Group.