Diversity in Our Industry: It Sucks!

This week’s Advertising Club of Buffalo meeting was focused on a topic that I find incredibly important and an integral piece that could define a company’s success.

Diversity, as we think of it, includes race, gender, and religion. This was mainly the topics that was discussed between the audience and panel (one of the most interactive of panels I’ve ever been to.) But I’ll give it up to the panel because it brought my attention to another facet of diversity that I hadn’t considered.

The panel consisted of Catherine Foster who works for Canisius College, Christina Lopez of BN360, Latrese Burruss of Eric Mower and Associates, and a white male by the name of Patrick Finan, the founder of Block Club. I won’t lie, when the panel sat down, I was wondering what the white, male was doing on the panel on the need and lack of diversity in Advertising/Public Relations/etc. Turns out, white males can have it rough if they don’t fit the mold entirely either. Gay white men can face some adversity and roadblocks along the way. See? Even I don’t think outside of the box on every issue.

I consider myself schooled and prepared to take that into consideration in the future. And please, don’t take my above story as some sort of blast on straight, white men. I’m engaged to one.

While I could give you a play-by-play on the topics that were discussed, I’m more interested in the big picture, the reason for the gathering.

How do we make our industry more diverse?

I piped up once, mostly because I couldn’t segway myself into the ensuing conversations abruptly or eloquently enough, partly because I’m still partially chicken shit. That aside, I did finally speak up when I had an anecdote I thought fitting to adding diversity.

In my opinion, keeping diverse constituents around comes in part by making people feel comfortable. Burruss, who was my supervisor while I was an intern at Eric Mower and Associates, was integral to my accepting the position at the agency. My initial concern was getting an internship anywhere and I wasn’t familiar with WNY agencies so EMA wasn’t all that impressive to me. (What a difference a semester of interning can do! Duh.)

But I found myself particularly intrigued when Burruss was able to connect a couple of things, make me realize why I would be interested in taking the internship. She connected my last name to the Seneca Nation, a feat I can’t give most people in WNY. She knew who the President of the Seneca Nation was. Granted, the Seneca Nation is a client there, but the fact that an agency like EMA works so well with the Seneca Nation was intriguing.

That was the hook. I was instantly comfortable and willing to take the chance. It also turned out to be the best option because not only did my horizons become broaden with my knowledge of agency life (and perhaps an intrigue to own my own agency someday), I found myself meandering from the Sports Public Relations trajectory because I saw something that would be much more fulfilling to me. Power to all my friends still in Sports PR/Media Relations, but it’s just not for me anymore.

Anyhow, comfort is a key element. I mean, as we discussed, Buffalo is an incredibly segregated city. I don’t know how to bring resolve to that issue. I wouldn’t pretend to but I do know that, that segregation can cause some hesitancy when it comes to dealing with a large group of white people. This isn’t just my insight into the matter, either. I have talked with so many of my friends who tense up or feel uncomfortable when faced with large groups of white people.

A lot of this can come from unfortunate past experiences with elitism, blatant or subversive racism, or a clear lack of respect for some fundamental elements that make a group of people diverse. Making potential candidates feel comfortable from the offset can divert some of those old feelings. Until the industry is more diverse, it’s important to be more aware of these issues.

Another thing that we talked about, and that I feel is absolutely necessary, is reaching out to students well before college. Racial diversity is mostly central to inner-city schools, especially in WNY. If there is no clear path to take before the time it comes to consider college, there may be no incentive to go. Let’s be clear here, inner-city students do go to college, but they may miss the Communications field all together. It is  not explained to middle school or high school kids that there is careers in social media, journalism, public relations, advertising, and marketing. It is not explained the power of the media and what it means for all groups of people, especially for minorities.

I kind of stumbled into the Communication field. I was watching one of those Sabres DVD’s that follows the team on a special road trip and the Director of Media Relations popped up on the screen and explained what it is he does for the team. I said, “I want to do that,” and looked at Media Studies. Ah, naiveté.

But all options were presented to me by the good sense of an adviser at Buffalo State who pointed me in the more fitting direction.

The rest, as they say, is history. I’m 22-years old and I have plans for my education in a field that is powerful.

I love the idea of going into high schools and talking to students about their choices and talking up this program. I wish someone had talked to me about it while I was applying to Biology programs at Canisius and Cornell, Hospitality at Niagara, and English at UB.

Diversity isn’t just some concerted effort to fulfill a quota or to make selling to a demographic easier.

No, I genuinely find diversity to be a beautiful thing. I love travelling to different countries and experiencing their customs. I love getting to know people of all backgrounds and I have relationships with people who are very, very different from me and my beliefs.

And from experience, it’s exciting to be able to talk to people about your customs and what makes your culture different. I was thrilled to talk to my Greek tour guide about the Seneca Nation of Indians and what that means.

As I like to say, when I am the CEO at Sam Inc., I want to see so much diversity because that’s what makes life rich and interesting. I don’t want people who think the same way I do because then we’ll never get out of a rut if we land in one. I never want someone to feel like they have to hide something about themselves that makes them seem different. I want them to know that I prefer it.

Clearly, I can ramble on and on about this issue. And I may create other posts in the future in regards to it. I am so devoutly committed to the pursuit of diversity and equality that I just had to put in my five cents.

Perhaps someday my voice will match my passion and I’ll speak up more at these events. I’m building up to it though.

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