Over the past two years, calls for diversity, fairness and inclusion across the ad industry seem to have gone from a frenzy to a dull rant. In response to the upsurge of the Black Lives Matter movement and the push for social justice, agencies are prioritizing hiring diverse talent and hiring DE&I leaders to hold themselves accountable. Many have committed and committed to reporting these talent numbers annually. But, according to one DE&I chief, diversity statistics alone are not enough.
“When we stopped in 2020, the main discussion was data,” said Kai Deveraux Lawson, Dentsu Creative’s senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion in the Americas. “However, the challenge with just focusing on data is that it doesn’t give a complete picture of what inclusivity and equity within an organization really looks like.”
When you say agency DE&I statistics don’t tell the full story, what do you mean?
When we talk about representation, we often overlook the fact that not everyone wants to be self-identified and want to be candid about who they are. Whether it’s because they identify as disabled within a particular racial or ethnic community, or want to determine their LGBTQ community identity. Many times the numbers we are able to share within an organization are not necessarily accurate, indicating whether someone really wants to talk about who they are.
So lack of nuance in the report? Why do you think this is?
Because it’s too complicated. The reality is that DE&I is not all-encompassing workplace friendly. DE&I has a lot to do with our behavior, personal experiences, trauma, and how we perceive personal experiences. It’s so complex that it requires a lot of thought, research, and patience. I don’t think a lot of people have the time, the time or the emotional capacity to live with the heaviness of all that means. This translates to the simplest of headlines that everyone is crazy about numbers in 2020. Therefore, we will only report DE&I numbers.
What have you done at Dentsu Creative to help change the narrative around DE&I?
The first thing we started doing internally was launching an internal creative review consultant. This is our quality approach, culturally controlling work before it is delivered to the client. We call it cultural fluency internally. It’s our way of making sure we’re talking to the product we’re making in a way that’s meaningful to our audience, and that our marketers can hear it. [With] the FTX Super Bowl ad, we were able to collaborate and influence the work with the creative review board, creative team, production and media teams — even adding feedback on other non-male and non-male innovators. t White. We were able to work with the creative team to put Katherine Johnson on the scene, [as one of the first African-American women to be a NASA scientist].
Since 2020, DE&I executives have shifted from reporting to HR to reporting directly to the CEO, including you. What does this mean for your character?
It completely changes priorities, access rights and who can hear you. Before transitioning to full-time DE&I, my personal criticism was that DE&I felt very superficial. It primarily focuses on building business resource groups. The primary partnership is between HR executives and diversity executives. It’s just one side of the business. Now it’s HR, finance, customers, talent, all those things, not just a source of responsibility. It also allows for a more transparent conversation about your needs, letting you go straight to the source.
So what is the solution? How else can we measure change in diversity without relying on numbers?
From my perspective, there are many other ways to identify opportunities for greater inclusion in the workplace that are not necessarily equal to our EEOC [ Employment Opportunity Commission], self-calculation or self-identification number. To me, it’s more telling that whether or not an institution is doing well has a lot to do with how people feel and engage. Your participation in the workplace does not indicate how many people you have. People will still tell you they didn’t see themselves in the meeting, and they’re 100% right because it’s not just a [key performance indicator]. This is actually a qualitative experience. My resistance remains that these numbers might help. These numbers will tell us what we need to pay attention to. These numbers don’t tell us whether people feel they are being treated fairly in teams, if people feel their voices are being heard when advocating for fairer practices at work. For me, these are the parts that make the day job more bearable. And those aren’t things we’ve been focusing on. The last two years just know how many you have.