I can only imagine what you’re thinking – “Oh cool, a straight, white man is going to write a blog about diversity.” Sarcasm noted, warranted and deserved. With everything from rampant cases of workplace harassment to systemic ageism/racism/sexism/misogyny, I’ve definitely become very introspective about my behavior and attitudes. Recently, I was lucky enough to be invited to “Truth: The State of Diversity in the Ad Industry” to hear JWT’s own Keni Thacker lead a panel featuring two incredible women – Kai Deveraux Lawson (read: “Why I Quit My Job”) and Mariam Guessous (read: “I Cannes-NOT do it anymore: A woman of color’s experience in the ad industry”).

They shared how they’ve been excluded from projects. Demeaned by superiors, and in general, shut out. But more importantly, they shared how they overcame and continue to succeed. I read the news. I’ve read about what’s going on, but coming out of their mouths, it was so much more personal. The reality of coming to work for them is so different than anything I’ve ever experienced.

So, I sat down with Keni to talk shop about the differences in our experiences and how we can all get to a better place – spoiler alert: it’s going to take work.

I’ve yet to work with a client that hasn’t listed increasing diversity as one of their goals. But, what are the structures in organizations that are keeping it from being realized.

“[In industry], there’s a feeling of if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. The mentality has just been ingrained in these industries for decades upon decades. It’s like this is the model. The model works. Don’t mess with it.”

Being not much of a conspiracy guy, I never believed that there is a secret cabal of hidden racists out there, but it’s obvious that unconscious bias is real. And even among people who are well aware of being “objective”, this kind of bias continues.

Forbes magazine reports:

    A Yale University study found that male and female scientists, both trained to be objective, were more likely to hire men, and consider them more competent than women, and pay them $4,000 more per year than women.

A note to everyone out there who are trying to get diverse STEM candidates in the door!

“I truly believe it’s a learned behavior, but when it gets challenged, it gets challenged back. You need so many other examples of why it’s great to hire a woman, a person of color or a person who is LGBTQ, then you do to hire a white man,” Keni said.

Keni, who started his own mentorship group at J. Walter Thompson called the Young Commodores, said “There’s all these programs and scholarships [for people of color, women and LGBTQ], and that’s just for them to even have a chance. And even with these programs, the problem still persists.”

So, do companies across the world really have a pipeline problem? Or do we have a screening problem? A mentorship problem? Or at worse, an active bias problem?

When you’re ready to discuss the difference JWT INSIDE can help you make in attracting and retaining the best and brightest for your company, we’d love to speak to you! Email us at conversations@jwt.com.

Casey Aitken takes words seriously as a Creative Director for JWT INSIDE. Brand development, content strategy, scriptwriting and social media, if you need words, he’s got them. In his free time, he enjoys talking about himself in the third person and camping.