Q&A: Partners + Napier’s Talent Team Talks Diversity and Inclusion

July 19, 2018

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is critical for our success, as an agency and a part of the global community. We sat down with our talent team to discuss what diversity and inclusion means, and how we’re working to foster an environment that leverages our differences to make us stronger.

Q: What do the words diversity and inclusion mean to you?

Maki: Diversity means getting people of all backgrounds together under one roof. Inclusion is empowering and engaging those people. My favorite definition of diversity and inclusion is from Verna Myers, who says, “Diversity is inviting someone to the party, and inclusion is asking them to dance.” You can fill a place with as many people of different cultural backgrounds and ethnicities as possible, but if those people don’t feel included, then it doesn’t work.

Doug: Diversity means that people are represented. People of different races, ethnicities, genders, religious beliefs, generations, political views—the list goes on. Inclusion, however, is all about involvement. To Maki’s point, you can’t just fill the room with all different kinds of people and feel like you’ve checked a box. Diversity and inclusion are things that need to be woven into an organization or culture’s DNA.

Q: What are some marks of inclusion?

Maki: Inclusion is a lot harder to measure than diversity. It’s really a feeling. Nobody wants to come to work and feel like they’re on an island or have to code switch to fit in. If people don’t feel like they can bring their whole selves to work, inclusion isn’t happening. One mark of inclusion is employee retention and promotion. If people are staying and advancing through the organization, it’s a step in the right direction.

Doug: While inclusion is all about involvement, there’s a fine line between engaging people and putting pressure on them. One way to measure it is by looking at the work you put out. Is it culturally significant? Does it have a point of view that’s more thoughtful? It’s hard to quantify, but you know it when you see it. The research shows that creative, diverse voices make better work. Period. If you have a bunch of diverse people in your office but your work is stagnant or stale, it’s probably not inclusionary.

Q: What steps has Partners + Napier taken to be more inclusive?

Doug: We’re on a long road headed in the right direction. It’s important to remember that diversity and inclusion is not an initiative, because initiatives have a beginning, middle and end. This doesn’t have an end. It’s an ongoing commitment to our people, our work and our clients. We’ve taken several steps to become a more inclusive workplace. Each one has been deliberate and intentional. Several years ago, we formed a group of employees of different colors, genders and points of view and came together to decide how we wanted to broach this topic and make an impact within our organization.

Maki: This group has become our “steering committee,” and it’s there to generate and heat-check ideas. It’s important that this is a group effort because we want to make sure we’re evolving in a way that’s effective, thoughtful, and above all—inclusive.

Doug: With the steering committee, we started by sharing information from the 4A’s and things we learned from other agencies and communities. Since its inception, we’ve taken a hard look at how we recruit and retain talent. In terms of recruiting, some things we’ve done in recent years are participate in the Multicultural Advertising Intern Program (MAIP) program through the 4A’s and ensure that we look beyond the portfolio when considering new hires so that we bring in people with different backgrounds, perspectives and skills. We also conduct employee surveys to get a pulse on people’s perspectives and what they want to learn more about, how they want to be engaged, and what types of training, exposure, and immersion projects we can implement. Coming out of our last employee survey, we decided to hold an LGBTQ panel with the Gay Alliance. We’re really looking forward to this, as it’s an opportunity for dialogue and education.

Maki: One thing we cannot emphasize enough is that it’s not an initiative or a to-do list. There are no boxes to check, and everything is at stake with each and every decision we make.

Q: Why is this such an important topic for the ad industry, specifically?

Maki: There’s a lot of power and responsibility in advertising and marketing campaigns. Ads are designed to influence people and their behavior, and they have a powerful impact on people’s lives. Therefore, as advertising professionals, we need to work on being more inclusive in our choices of representation, our language, and the messaging and images we use. We need to make sure that we’re effectively representing people and the societal context in which we all exist.

Doug: Advertising, TV and movies are all very public. You make a misstep there, everyone sees it. The internet remembers. Like Maki said, our messages have a way of shaping people’s opinions and if we send the wrong one, we could do significant damage.

Q: What are some of the challenges to hiring diverse talent? What about retaining that diversity?

Maki: Hiring does get difficult because art and design aren’t necessarily valued careers in every culture. There is often a lack of exposure to people of diverse backgrounds. And if no one in your immediate family or social circle is familiar with the industry, then how would you learn about it? It’s also made more challenging because of the lack of creative or art-related programs in inner-city schools.

Doug: This problem started years ago, because advertising has never been a diverse field. You have years of people not seeing advertising as a welcoming place and therefore generations of people going into a field and not feeling like they belong. Then there is a lack of mentors of diverse backgrounds to help push the next generation forward. I will say that I give us credit as an industry for recognizing that there is a problem and trying to do something about it. If you do the same things that you’ve always done as an agency, you’ll get the same results. We want to continue striving to be better than we were before, acknowledge all the things we need to undo and commit to changing in the future.

To continue this conversation, get in touch with Doug and Maki. We’d love to hear from you.

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