Market-winning ideas come from people working in businesses with diverse and inclusive cultures.
For those of us in marketing and communications agencies, we know that talented people with different perspectives make our work more engaging and influential across diverse audiences. More importantly, we understand that with the power to influence comes the opportunity to raise consciousness and create positive change.
While most of us accept these premises, we’ve fallen short when it comes to industry-wide results. We must do better. We must provide more opportunities for under-represented voices and people from diverse backgrounds to participate in our agencies, our industry and our communities.
JPL is no exception. Years ago, our HR Director and I established a goal to recruit more diverse interns with the hope that it would make our employee and management teams more diverse over time. To be honest, this approach had limited impact. So late last year we decided to form a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) committee to take a broader, more actively-engaged approach. In early 2020, the committee established strong initial goals and plans to improve our efforts. Then, COVID-19 hit and disrupted plans at every level of our business.
In March, I heard the story of Ahmaud Arbery, the young Black man in Georgia who went out for a run and was shot to death. As someone who loves to run, I reflected on this injustice. The fact that a Black person in the United States cannot even go for a run without fears and risks that I don’t even consider is, quite frankly, appalling. It was at this point, I started to learn more about modern day racial bias and discrimination by listening to books and podcasts on my increasingly-frequent quarantine runs.
When JPL started to settle into working mostly from home, we decided to re-launch our D&I committee. Between the time we scheduled and held the meeting, our committee and the rest of the world witnessed the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. The Ahmaud Arbery story woke me up to how much racism still exists. Witnessing the George Floyd murder, and the protests that erupted in response, forced me to re-evaluate my view of my country, my beliefs, my unconscious biases, my experiences and my responsibilities as a business owner. It was time to make a much more serious commitment to change.
I was not alone. When our committee met, every single member was disturbed by the week’s events. More importantly, we were motivated to take action. In addition to our initial goals and plans, we considered making a statement. To our teams. To our clients. To the world. But what could we say that wouldn’t sound hollow or inauthentic? Instead, we decided to focus internally and get the whole company involved in the committee’s goals:
- To implement and promote ways to ensure our work respects the diversity of the audiences we’re trying to reach.
- To ensure that JPL’s culture and communications welcome collaboration with talented team members regardless of their race, gender, nationality, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, disability or any other characteristic or status.
- To seek relationships with agency partners, freelancers, vendors, recruitment channels, colleges and universities to help us achieve our goals.
All of our team members want to see JPL improve and be a voice for change in our company, our industry and our communities. Through breakout sessions on Zoom, we gathered their challenging ideas and compiled them in our initial action plan. Since then, our committee has helped move us forward and we’re seeing signs of progress:
- We’ve publicly expressed our company point of view on diversity, equity and inclusion and updated the values embedded in what we call the JPL Experience.
- We’ve held two company-wide educational programs on the foundations of creating a more diverse and inclusive culture and on keeping diversity top of mind in our work.
- We’ve expanded our recruitment efforts and implemented proactive measures to increase the number of diverse applicants for current and future positions.
- We’ve established relationships with minority-owned firms that can be partners in our work with clients.
But our work has just begun. As we move from the listening and planning phase to the action phase, we are approaching Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with the same energy and intensity as our other critical business initiatives. For each area of focus, we’ve defined targeted metrics to improve the diversity of our management team and our staff, our vendors and partners, and diverse representation in our work.
We have a lot to do but we have to make progress. While change at JPL won’t come with just me, I know change won’t come without me. I know that change will only come if I’m committed to take action and to not let time slip away. I need to keep us focused so that in three months, six months, a year, five years, we’re making an impact.
As business leaders, we need to commit to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion action plans in order to create positive, lasting change. We should do so understanding that our businesses will be stronger when we engage more diverse voices. Imagine the impact we can have if we direct our resources to make real progress in the coming months and years. If we all take action in our organizations, our industries and our communities, we can accelerate the demise of racism, make our cultures more inclusive and create more opportunities for all people.