workforce diversity

Why The Advertising Industry Still Lacks Diversity

Continuing with the same theme from my article a couple of weeks ago about diversity in the media, this week I wanted to touch on the advertising industry.  Like television shows, the TV commercials during the breaks, as well as ads in print and online media are starting to reflect the changing, diverse American landscape.  Just yesterday, I walked by my local Old Navy store, which featured a black woman and white man in an embrace and a biracial child standing in front of them, implying this was an interracial family enjoying the brand’s new winter clothing line.  Then I went to a bus stop and saw an ad from the Chicago Tourism Bureau featuring what could be implied as two gay men also embracing at a festive occasion.  Yes, this is the new normal.

However, in the last few months, there has been a slew of problematic ads getting media attention.  Even when ad agencies have good intentions in their attempt to be more inclusive, they can fail miserably.

Take this above Dove ad.

If you haven’t heard about it already, it featured a black woman morphing into a white woman who morphs into an Asian woman.  The main problem here is that it implies that somehow the soap cleans so well that it changes black skin to white skin.  While Dove claims it didn’t intend to be racist in the ad, the company has a history of using the same racial tropes in their ads.  Just six years ago, Dove was accused of doing the same exact black to white/dirty to clean ad.

Not to mention that there still product advertising using racial overtones in use today – Aunt Jemima Pancakes, Uncle Ben Rice and Chef Frank White (Rastus) on the Cream of Wheat box just to name a few.

Racist soap ads have a long, unfortunate history in America.  From 1875 to 1921, soap manufacturer N.K. Fairbank used this ad featuring a white child asking a black child, “Why don’t you ask your mamma to wash you with fairy soap.  There were other ads with black children getting washed in the tub and come out with white skin.

Unfortunately, I am not surprised that these subtle racial overtones are still used in advertising.  While it is true that the advertising industry is using more diverse imagery in their ad placement, there is still a serious lack of diverse people working in ad agencies.

According to the 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 582,000 Americans employed in advertising, less than half are women, seven percent are black, six percent are Asian and 10 percent are Hispanic.   Comparatively by 2044 when it becomes a minority-majority country, the United States will be 49.7 percent white  (63 percent today), 25 percent Hispanic (17 percent today), 12.7 percent black, 7.9 percent Asian and 3.7 percent multiracial.  Essentially, the ad world is lagging behind the real world!  Most of the major ad agencies in America are still run by older, privileged white men who attended elite schools and only interact with people who look like them, often reflecting the TV show Mad Men, but taking place in 2017, not the 1950s.

Also, if there were not only more people of color in decision-making positions but also more people in general with different perspectives with an understanding of how cultural sensitivity and awareness combines with trends and branding, this problem would greatly improve.  And when I mean being in a decision-making position, I don’t mean the “Chief of Diversity” or some other BS token minority position with no actual power and never disagree with their white peers within today’s corporate environment.  I mean black, Asian, Hispanic and women executives with knowledge and awareness of history and culture who can say, “We can’t run this ad because it’s racist/sexist/homophobic etc.”

I have done work with some larger ad agencies as a subcontracting web graphics developer and I have encountered these racial dynamics in their workplaces, where their token black employee just goes along to get along and agrees with all the dumb ideas from their white co-workers.

So basically until workforce diversity improves, there will be more similar Dove commercials in the future.

The Benefits of Workforce Diversity in Today’s Economy

Multiethnic People with Startup Business Talking in a Cafe

Last week I discussed the importance of cultural competencies in our global economy.  But what about diversity within your organization?  Workforce diversity is not just a buzzword; it’s the norm for doing good business today.

Over at Global Wire Associates, we pride ourselves on making sure we hire the best and brightest from all walks of life.  Under each of our job openings, we list the following:

Global Wire Associates is an equal opportunity employer and committed to workforce diversity.  We encourage applications from qualified women, ethnic/racial minorities, people with disabilities and those from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) as recognized by the United Nations.

Unfortunately, even in 2015, there are still many people who don’t get it.  So here are my reasons why you need to care about workforce diversity.

Diverse Employees, Diverse PerspectivesStudies back up that the more diverse your staff is, the more success you will have in business outcomes.  Bringing employees together from different life experiences can support innovation and more effective problem-solving.  The same is true about diversity in business ownership and management, as it helps to increase employment and economic outcomes.

Avoid Embarrassing Work Mistakes – Even today you still hear humiliating stories about how a high profile person, a newspaper or the marketing department at a company do something that is perceived as being offensive to a particular group of people, whether it is race, class, gender, sexual orientation or disability.  One of the benefits of having a diverse staff is that someone with cultural awareness is more likely to call out a potential faux pas before the world sees it and save the company from embarrassment.  In this situation, it might be time for the staff to have a diversity training session from the human resources department.

Other People Want To Do Business With You – Clients and vendors nowadays like to do business with other companies that value workforce diversity and understand that qualified workers come in every stripe.  Also, people are more likely to want to do business with companies that have staff that look like them too, since clients and vendors are also just as diverse.  With that being said…

A Globalized Workplace Matters Today – Technology has made the world a smaller place.  With one click, we can get services and products from anywhere on the planet.  So that means your customers could be any race, culture, religion or nationality.  It is also very important to not offend international clients, like making light of the serious deforestation crisis in Brazil or trivializing human rights abuses in Tibet.  In today’s economy, businesses are expected to have globally-minded employees that understand intercultural communication.

What Black Females Think About STEM Education

STEM careers

Lately there has been all this talk about the lack of racial and gender diversity in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.  This was spurred on by Google revealing a breakdown of their employees by race and gender.  And to no one’s surprise, the tech giant’s workforce is largely white and male.  Yahoo and LinkedIn followed suit with their own diversity reporting with similar findings.

I’ve been a web designer for about five years, and I interact with people on projects with a wide variety of computer programming skills, ranging from talented web developers who build databases to hardcore programmers who can build with C++ and Java in their sleep.  When I go to tech conferences or networking events, I am almost always the only black female in the room.

I recently went back to school to get more formal programming training, and, again, there were very few women and minorities in those classes.  Interestingly enough, the few women and minorities in my classes were all foreigners from India, Russia and Nigeria.

So I wasn’t actually surprised about the lack of workforce diversity at these companies.  Many people have insinuated that racism and sexism has caused this problem.  I’ve never worked for any of these companies, nor do I know anyone who currently works for Google, Yahoo or LinkedIn, so I don’t have any real insight into what is really going on in these respective human resources departments.  I also don’t have any solid proof that there is hiring discrimination.

I just don’t know.

But my initial guess is that there aren’t that many women and people of color working for these companies because there aren’t enough qualified applicants in the job pool because there aren’t enough women and people of color pursuing STEM careers in the first place.  Only 18 percent of women and less than 10 percent of African-Americans and Latinos pursue computer science college degrees.

Before there can be a serious discussion about STEM workforce diversity, we have to look at the state of STEM education in the United States.  From my vantage point, there are many reasons for the lack of non-white guys in STEM industries.  While these apply to all science, engineering and mathematics careers, for the purposes of this article, I will focus on technology education and careers.

1. Lack of role models and mentors – Simply if you don’t see anyone who looks like you working in that field, you are more likely to not want to consider a career in that field.

2. Gender stereotyping – As far as women are concerned, there has been this longstanding stereotype that computer science is a guy thing, geeky and not “feminine.”

3. Lack of training opportunities – Most people working in computer sciences are first introduced to the field while in K-12 schooling.  If you are a girl of color or a low income girl of any color, you most likely attend a crappy public school that probably doesn’t have computers, let alone computer science classes.  Even if you are lucky to have access to computer science classes at your school, most likely those classes don’t count towards your graduation requirements, so there is no incentive to take the classes in the first place.

I remember I had to take a computer science class in high school, and I really hated it because the teacher was an old guy who fell asleep in class and it seemed really hard with all that math.  I never had any real interest in technology until I was already into my journalism career.  By the time I started my career, the writing was on the wall and journalism was being turned upside down by the Internet.  I first got interested in technology when I started to see how the Internet was democratizing the media and making it possible to be your own publisher.

In my spare time, I mentor a couple of 15-year-old African-American girls – Cynthia and Keyshia – and I asked them the other day specifically if they had any interest in STEM classes or careers. Cynthia attends an public school in Boston.  She says she has to take a computer class at her school, but she hates it because her teacher is “soooooo borriiiiing.”  Keyshia attends a suburban public school outside of Boston that offers AP computer science.  She said she doesn’t want to take the class because it seems too hard, too much math and they’re only boys in the class.

Coincidentally, Cynthia and Keyshia are very tech savvy, as their eyes are always glued to their iPhones either texting or posting pictures on Instagram.  However, their tech consumption doesn’t seem to translate to any interest in pursuing a tech career or even finding out how the Instagram mobile app was built.

I recently showed Cynthia and Keyshia how I designed my new website Women Talking, and they were fascinated not only by the design, but how easy and fun it was to design it.  I showed them a little HTML and CSS and how they worked together.  I then helped them to create a slideshow using jQuery for a different website.   Both girls said they were really interested in these web design techniques because they could instantly see the results of their coding in a browser.

“Why don’t they teach stuff like this in my school?” Keyshia said.

Maybe schools should teach computer science in a way that makes it relevant with things we do and use in our daily lives.  Teenagers love to text, maybe there should be classes on how to develop mobile apps for texting.  Video games?  How about a class that not only teaches JavaScript and other game design tools, but also require students to design their own video game by the end of the semester.

Considering the fact that not many American high school students – regardless of race or gender – are taking AP computer science classes anymore, schools need to get more creative about how they teach technology. This would not only expose more kids to possible STEM careers, but also to other traditionally non-STEM careers that now heavily rely on technology (like journalism).  I know if I had learned how to design and develop a website in high school, my career trajectory probably would have been different.

I know there is a lot more to making STEM education and careers more inclusive than I can discuss in this piece, but at least we are starting to have that conversation.