Eileen Zhao is a Senior Strategist at FF Creative Community in New York City. As one of the 18 participants in the first cohort of the #MoreLikeMe program, a diversity initiative hosted by HP and the Cannes Lions, Eileen shares her perspective on how we can chip away at the ad industry’s diversity and inclusion problem within the walls of our agencies—even as young talent. Here's Eileen—
One of the key things that Tiffany Warren, SVP Chief Diversity Officer at Omnicom, shared at Cannes that I found super insightful was that agencies/clients are often asked to make a business case for diversity. And yet, we would never be asked to make a business case for sameness.
The case for diversity is already there and HP is living proof of it, enforcing a more diverse client team, agency roster, and production standard. But creating an environment that encourages diversity in thought and representation is a systemic process that often trickles from the clients down.
So how can we as agency people early in our careers make a difference? From Cannes to you, here are five tips on how you can make your agency more inclusive.
1. Make the most of your seat at the table.
Regardless of title and discipline, you’ve already been invited to sit at the table where creative decisions are made. Think about it, in that tiny creative review meeting, you and the four other people in that room are creating something that the world will see. So use that power responsibly and take a step back to see if the work is representative of real people (in story, talent, and execution), and start a dialogue if you think it's not.
2. Share your true self at the office.
“Just be you,” is the most cliche thing you could hear. It's a statement so simple and yet, at times so hard for people of color. But take encouragement and remind yourself that you were brought on to your agency because your team liked what they saw—your thinking, your work, your potential. You have a distinct point of view that can shape the work for the better, so bring your experience and your background to the table and share it!
3. Stay curious and empathetic to people and their stories.
As planners, our main job is to know what people are saying and doing, but it's a practice that anyone can and should do. As part of HP’s diversity panel, Thandie Newton, actress of Westworld, urged the crowd to discover other perspectives because while “ignorance isn’t a crime, it’s a crime to not investigate your ignorance.” Empathy goes a long way to understand the world we live in and figuring out the struggles and solutions we can bring to our work.
4. Advocate for accurate representation.
Whether you’re a POC or not, advocate for stories and talent that ring true for the community they’re depicting. It should be that simple. When we talk about authenticity in storytelling, it doesn’t get more real than that. Give POC a platform to share their reality vs. the reality we imagine for them. Basically, just avoid a Ghost in the Shell or Rub & Tug situation.
5. Connect with allies in and out of work.
Whether it's with interns or with senior level management, find supporters who understand the value of diversity and inclusion programs. Everything gets easier knowing that you have a system of support in place that you can turn to, and that can create more diversity and inclusion initiatives. Whether it's with people in your agency or through LinkedIn, more often than not, you’ll find the support you’re looking for and the tools to guide you.
Advocating for diversity and inclusion as young talent might seem difficult, but the tide is in our favor and progress is on our side. Through actions big and small, let's help create the industry that we want to work in.
You got this,
Connect with Eileen via LinkedIn.
Hosted by HP and the Cannes Lions Festival, the #MoreLikeMe diversity initiative invited 18 creatives from HP’s 5 AOR agencies (BBDO, Edelman, Fred & Farid, Giant Spoon, and PHD) and the MAIP program to attend the 65th Cannes Lion festival. The program included full access to the festival, a number of mentoring and networking events, and even behind-the-scenes look at the judging process of Cannes. While the pilot program was only open to HP’s partner agencies and MAIP participants, HP plans to extend the extend the program in future years.