Last week I had the great privilege to emcee a Yelp event that brought together some of the greatest changemakers in Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIB) within the advertising industry, including leaders at PepsiCo, the Ad Council, and Nielsen. The event presented the chance for a real, honest discussion about DIB– and the challenges that we, as leaders in the advertising world, continue to encounter.
Representation matters. I know this because 15 years ago as I entered the digital advertising industry, I was one of two Black women at Yelp. When I entered the elevator and saw my colleague smile back at me with her big brown eyes and natural hair, I was able to breathe a little easier and trust a little more that I could bring my authentic self to this company I’d chosen to grow my career at. As the company grew, not only did I see the number of diverse faces multiply, but I saw the intentional growth of BIPOC people across the organization, and an intentional commitment towards inclusion and opportunity for everyone. “Intentional” is the key word, and businesses – especially those in advertising, which is traditionally white and male – need to demonstrate an intention that’s rooted in their core values to create real change.
At Yelp, I’m happy to say that we now have over 20 employee resource groups (ERGs) – comprising nearly half (49%) of Yelp’s employee population – which provide key insights and support for employees, as Yelp continues to make strides in fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace where anyone can belong and thrive.
Change was a theme of the evening, and among the most meaningful takeaways from our discussion were the following:
- DIB is about more than gender, race and ethnicity. It’s about access, economic opportunity, and removing barriers that typically impact underrepresented populations, like degrees and certificates. Leveling the playing field, so all have the opportunity to succeed, is a critical first step.
- Companies who do it right are intentional. Leaders like PepsiCo embed diversity both within and outside of the company through initiatives like vendor support and community support. They’ve made DIB part of their DNA and have intentionally baked it into all they do, from ad campaigns to team structures and beyond.
- Expect progress, not perfection. A sea change takes time, and so does meaningful DIB change. The work is never done. For example, just because you set out to support all BIPOC employees doesn’t mean you can’t single out programming and progress for specific populations. Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian populations shouldn’t always be grouped together – they have different needs and expectations. A meaningful campaign or content developed for one group will still bring you closer to your goal.
- Rethink how you hire. When hiring talent, we should not be thinking about hiring either the underrepresented candidate or the qualified candidate. You may need to redefine what “qualified” means, especially if it requires years of experience that diverse populations may not have access to. Put effort into recruiting, seek out referrals from your ERGs, and build a network of qualified candidates that show nontraditional qualifications.
- Measurement matters when proving the case for DIB. Data is one of the most important tools to prioritize when reporting up to executives about your momentum in DIB. Demonstrating that diversity-focused content you created or underrepresented candidates you hired are performing will help to make the case for further investment.
Representation matters, and we know this because 72% of Gen Z consumers are more likely to support brands that deliver authentic advertising by embracing diversity. As we look to the future, let’s work with intention to make DIB a priority and build companies, brands and communities where everyone belongs.