‘They aren’t making leaders out of us’: Confessions of a Black creative on stalled DEI progress in advertising

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This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

Nearly two years ago, agencies across the country released diversity data, admitted to shortcomings and made commitments to do better. Last year, some agencies released updates to that diversity data, with middling results.

This year, however, agencies seem to be quiet when it comes to updates on diversity data as well as diversity, equity and inclusion commitments, according to a Black copywriter at a creative agency who says work to better DEI issues has stalled. In the latest edition of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor, the creative shared what he hopes creative leaders would do as well as the current landscape on DEI issues. 

This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. 

What’s going on? 

The conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion seem to have fizzled out. At my office we keep having DEI check-ins but there’s no real, concrete proof that things are changing except for DEI folks getting hired. I want to see the actual data, the work to push diversity, equity and inclusion forward [in the ad industry]. I see a lot of work on TV with the interracial couples or with [a diverse cast]. You can see how these agencies are casting thoughtfully, but the [narrative of the ads] makes it clear that behind the scenes there are [still DEI issues.] 

How so? 

I look at the industry, I look at brands, I feel like a lot of what’s going on is lip-service. It feels like the conversation isn’t moving forward. It stops when things become uncomfortable. No one is saying anything anymore. Agencies have gone quiet about [releasing diversity data]. Why? They don’t have people of color in creative leadership positions where it matters. They don’t have them in leadership positions. They aren’t hiring and making leaders out of us. They are hiring juniors who will take direction like, “Write a rap for us so we can say a Black person did it and it’s a rap video.” There’s no concept, no context. There’s a lot of weird personnel moves being made, but [agencies] can do better. 

It seems like the push for change has stalled. 

I’ve been trying to spend more time helping people on my own. We can’t keep saying we want to help people [get into the industry] without doing anything. But when I work with companies on projects to help people, I find that I’m doing a lot of it on my own. I have to do the groundwork. I do it and ask when we are moving forward on the projects. They say, whenever you want to. There’s no real help. I have to take it on. You have to do so much more work. It gets hard to get real support beyond someone saying they’ll support a project. 

That sounds frustrating. 

It’s hard for me to have conversations about how to make change within the industry easier, especially for Black creatives in the industry. The solutions organizations have – they aren’t willing to deal with the financial ramifications of being more inclusive. [Awards shows] continue to limit their competitions to members who pay, which isn’t always accessible for people. A lot of people who find non-traditional ways into advertising find it later in their life and many competitions have young age limits. Until we personally get involved and try to make change ourselves these organizations aren’t willing to do it. 

What do you wish agencies and industry organizations would do? 

I don’t need to hear from your DEI person about DEI. I need to hear from your creative leader about your DEI. People say they are scared of speaking up because they’ll get canceled but if they didn’t know they were going to say some bullshit then they wouldn’t be worried. We all know what we would say to get canceled. The creative leaders need to become a part of the solution. Right now they are not. 


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