The Long and Winding Road of Diversity and Inclusion

By Jennifer Risi, Worldwide Chief Communications Officer, Ogilvy

At the November 2018 3% Conference, leaders and influencers from across the creative world came together for a week of events, discussions, and networking focused on the divergence of creativity and diversity. Sadly, that intersection is all too uncommon; for those who don’t know, the 3% Movement took its name from the percentage of creative directors that are women.

This year’s conference proved that change is coming. There was a palpable feeling of forward motion in the air, no doubt spurred on by movements like Time’s Up and #metoo. Those movements raised awareness, but if the energy at the 3% Conference was any indication, action is on the way.

And it’s been a long time coming. Diversity and inclusion, or lack thereof, is something that just about every major company has claimed to care about and address. Awareness does matter, and successful initiatives can be contagious. (And success inevitably follows: The more diverse a company is in its leadership, the better its profits are.) That still doesn’t mean that progress has been nearly swift enough. For way too many companies, particularly creative agencies, gender and racial representation, particularly in leadership positions, lags far behind.

Perhaps that’s because complacency can be natural. Diversity initiatives have been the talk of the business world for years now, which has resulted in some positive gains. But sometimes that initial burst of small progress can actually halt true, lasting change. When diversity and inclusion is thought of as a goal in and of itself, or a benchmark to be hit, progress often stalls. Instead, diversity must be an ethos, baked into an agencies purpose, something that drives the business forward in all of its pursuits, in every story it tells on behalf of clients.

That doesn’t mean that we, our clients and their businesses shouldn’t set tangible goals and set forth concrete steps that should be taken to have a representative leadership. Are you properly recruiting and cultivating young, diverse talent? Do you have a pipeline to the top in place that ensures diverse talent is being given a fair shot? There are different ways to go about it, but what’s most important is that action is taken, not just the presence of lofty-sounding goals. Walking the walk is much more important than talking the talk.

One effective way companies can ensure they follow through on their initiatives is through partnerships. Ogilvy and The 3% Movement have long been partners, and our partnership took a leap after Ogilvy announced at Cannes 2018 its plans to hire 20 women to creative leadership positions by 2020. The 3% Movement will act as a watchdog, making sure that Ogilvy follows through on this promise. The possibilities for partnerships are vast—agencies can partner with outside firms, other agencies, nonprofits, and clients—but most important are the benefits. Partnerships breed accountability. They keep us on our toes, and ensure that different perspectives are heard other than what’s happening inside our respective bubbles.

Partnerships help keep companies in line, but at the end of the day, change needs to come from within. It’s on the leaders of creative agencies to take action, ensuring that women and women of colors’ voices are heard, that they are gaining the same valuable experience as their male co-workers as they grow their craft. Speaking on a panel at the 3% Conference, Group Creative Director at Ogilvy Della Matthew illustrated one small example of this type of leadership. Matthew talked about how she insists on bringing junior and mid-level talent on major shoots. “We have to push decision-making down and empower the next generation,” Matthew said. “We need to provide the right experiences and opportunities to keep the best creative talent.”

The fact of the matter is that diversity isn’t a zero sum game. There isn’t an endpoint. Even if an agency sets and fulfills a goal, it can’t afford to rest on its laurels. Companies need to be constantly evaluating and reevaluating their diversity and inclusion efforts. We too often forget that there’s diversity within diversity. The world is constantly changing, and we all need to change with it. If your diversity efforts are reactionary, you will never quite have the requisite representation needed to succeed.