Agencies, Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to Check for Inclusivity in Your Work

By Janis Middleton is EVP, Executive Director of Multicultural and Inclusion Strategy at Guided By Good

It’s an encouraging sign of the times that many agencies are on some sort of DEI journey. While there are many points of entry—ranging from unawareness, where the organization questions why DEI needs to be discussed, to leading in the space, where the organization has been on its DEI journey for a while and it’s infused in all they do. The ultimate goal is twofold: create a working environment where employees feel seen and heard, and achieve inclusivity in the work. Striving for work that is both strategic and inclusive is the responsibility of agencies not only because our clients expect us to know their audiences and their behaviors, but also because consumers demand it.

But in order to get to inclusive work, you must first have an inclusive workplace with people who hold inclusive mindsets. This starts with having intentional practices for hiring and recruiting, which is something that permeates through the agency’s culture, and it’s something that can be greatly impacted by having the right tools and resources in place.

As you begin or continue your journey toward inclusive work, here are three tips to help you along the way:

  1. Check all touchpoints, and be open to feedback. Consider adding DEI touchpoints to your review process to check for the presence of stereotypes, insensitivities, racial undertones, offensive material, etc. Create open communication between all team members to ensure a safe place for teams to collaborate and have uncomfortable conversations when they arise. Have grace and allow people to know what they don’t know and ask questions of those who would know without judgement. Quick reminder: When asking for perspective, actively listen and don’t invalidate experiences. When someone shares their perspective, keep in mind that it’s often done in a moment of vulnerability. So when they share, ensure they feel heard and understand that they are not speaking for an entire people or culture.
  2. Understand the difference between mass audience reach vs. mass audience representation. Mass audience representation is bigger than diverse casting. It starts at the brief with cultural insights, so it should be at the core. If you start there, you’re not scrambling moments before client delivery to find someone from a marginalized group to “judge” the work for political correctness. Additionally, casting on your client’s business must be intentional—so don’t limit people to only support work that speaks to their culture. We should all be on work that lets us expand our thinking to perspectives outside of our own. Casting in the work should therefore be intentional and purposeful.
  3. Set teams up to win with the right tools and processes.
    You can start by having different perspectives in the room during meetings, but ultimately the team should be made up of different perspectives. Another simple way to start this process is to create a tool or platform where teams can submit work and/or request help. At my agency, we created a Google Form that asks a series of questions about the perspective they need and allows teams to submit their work for review. This does not have to be an ongoing solution and does not replace the need to hire for diversity and inclusion at all levels, but it can be a starting point and a learning opportunity to gain perspective that might be missing from the team. Determine the services and resources that are needed to establish inclusion in the work and invest in a mix of research tools, internal people, and any other third-party partnerships. Do not put all of the work on the backs of the people who are of marginalized groups. Develop an evolved review process with integrated partnerships that complement the current review processes and include DEI touchpoints from start to finish.

Getting to inclusive work does not require creating yet another process and it shouldn’t impede on your current process. By working closely with client leads, department heads, and agency leaders, you can ensure everyone understands inclusion is a priority in the work from the get-go.

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