Multicultural advertising professionals are less likely than their white counterparts to say they plan to stay at their current employer for the immediate future. Forty-nine percent of white agency employees intend to remain with their agency for the next two years, compared with just 26 percent of Latinos, 25 percent of Asians, 22 percent of African Americans and 21 percent of other ethnic groups, according to a study by crosscultural talent consultancy Tangerine Watson. The issues motivating multicultural employees to jump ship? Lack of diversity, few career advancement opportunities and limited salary potential.
These are just some of findings from the Tangerine Watson Impact Study 2011, which surveyed more than 800 advertising professionals in an attempt to understand what factors attract candidates to the industry, keep them engaged and ultimately motivate them to leave. While the findings of this study are industry specific, the report illustrates differences in how white and multicultural employees perceive diversity and inclusion that are likely to exist across industries.
The advertising industry has been scrutinized for its lack of diversity for several decades. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, the fictional 1960s ad agency featured in the AMC series “Mad Men,” provides a glimpse into the industry’s homogenous past. Throughout the years, a host of initiatives have launched in an effort to bolster diversity within the industry, with varying success. Yet, people of color remain woefully underrepresented in the field. According to AdWeek, in 2008 the advertising industry was 5 percent African American, 3 percent Asian and 8 percent Latino--percentages that are significantly lower than the makeup of these groups in the general U.S. population.
While white and multicultural advertising professionals cite similar reasons for being drawn to the field (creativity, culture, job opportunity and the image of the advertising industry), the factors that foster a continued interest differ. White respondents say agency culture, a sense of satisfaction and their work environment have encouraged them to stay. In contrast, multicultural ad agency employees say career advancement opportunities keep them motivated. However, multicultural professionals are driven away from the industry when these opportunities fail to materialize.
Nearly three-quarters of multicultural respondents believe their agency experience differs greatly from their white colleagues. They supported this idea with comments such as the following:
- “There is always an unspoken uneasiness as an ‘outsider’ within a general-market agency where subjectivity and opinion, which are oftentimes formed based on cultural biases, exist.”
- “In a culturally insensitive environment, what is not said around you is sometimes louder than what is said. Because the advertising culture is so skewed to the dominant culture, there is a lot of identity-based marketing and advertising that does not reflect the actual, real world.”
- “At conferences, sales retreats, etc., although diversity is preached, after the formal gatherings, everyone seems to retreat to their own ethnic groups to hang out informally.”
These comments illustrate that agencies’ diversity and inclusion efforts are perceived differently depending on one’s racial or ethnic background. And according to respondents, one's background also has an impact on one’s access to mentors and sponsors. While 48 percent of whites at advertising agencies are very satisfied with their access to decision makers and sponsors, just 36 percent of Latinos, 29 percent of African Americans and 24 percent of Asians shared the same sentiment.
“My experiences are different,” commented one multicultural respondent. “If there aren’t people that look like you/of your background, then you don’t have the same support/mentoring opportunities. That has been my experience. So often people choose to mentor because they somehow see themselves or relate to the person they are mentoring.”
As advertising agencies (and companies in all industries) continue to develop diversity and inclusion efforts it is important to get feedback from the employees who will be impacted by these efforts. Just as ad agency employees report disparate experiences, where they see areas for improvement differ as well. Whites at ad agencies rank having a formal orientation process as the top area of improvement, while African Americans and Latinos seek greater recognition from their supervisors--either through valuing one’s contributions or providing adequate and consistent informal feedback--and Asians seek informal mentoring programs.
"A purposeful and conscious effort to solicit genuine feedback from employees regardless of ethnicity to improve agency culture is crucial," said Carol Watson, CEO and founder of Tangerine Watson. "The long-running diversity and inclusion problem will not change organically. We all have to take proactive steps toward fostering that much-needed change. We believe that capturing and reviewing the insights gained from this study can help move the conversation forward to implement a truly effective action plan."
Photo used under Creative Commons from anhgemus.