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The BrandLab‘s vision is a marketing industry that thrives on the insights and creativity of people with diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The organization introduces, guides, and prepares diverse students for creative careers. Every two years, The BrandLab publishes an in-depth report to understand demographic shifts within the region’s advertising industry. We connected with CEO Ellen Walthour to learn more about the BrandLab’s most recent report.

Q: Nearly one-quarter of our region’s population is comprised of people of color, but your report finds that just 10% of advertising agency employees are people of color. Is the gap beginning to close?

Ellen Walthour: Yes, I would say that this years report is hopeful. Change is starting to happen. When we first conducted the study 6 years ago, (the study is conducted biannually) that number was only 6.4%. The even more promising number is for entry level staff. Today 30% of teams are made up of people of color, up 18 percentage points from the study two years ago.

Q: It’s great to see progress. Our BE MSP Workplace Inclusion Toolkit shares Make It. MSP. data indicating that most professionals of color in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region, regardless of industry, observe employers are doing more to build more inclusive workplaces and increase diversity. But fewer people report that these intentions are leading to impact. Is that consistent with what you’re finding as you dig deeper into efforts in the advertising industry?

EW: We 100% agree. Our study even asked that question. We see among our partners that 67% have initiatives in place, but only 36% see the impact of the work. We aim to make both numbers 100%.

Q: Are there examples efforts happening today that you see making an impact?

EW: There are several areas I see where, when even a small amount of effort is made, there is impact.

  • Leadership must be driving the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) goals and modeling a culture of inclusion. It can not be just from a few people. This work must be a priority for leadership.
  • Requiring that all jobs are posted. Too often, in a fast paced creative industry, hiring is done though personal networks. We must be actively working to break old networks and build new ones.
  • Conversations. The BrandLab leads Fearless Conversations to provide space for marketers to talk about inclusion in the workplace and in the work they produce. Agencies who have chosen to bring us in repeatedly report that giving their employees time to stop and think about how identities play out in the workplace and the work build rapport and safety for employees to show up as their authentic selves.

Q: We love the Fearless Conversation. After someone attends, how do you advise them to bring that fearless spirit into other spaces?

EW: The Fearless Conversation is our annual event that brings industry leaders and marketers at every level of their career to have a big grand conversation about race/class and how it plays out in the world of marketing. We focus on three W’s. The Work: tactics that go out into the world. The Workers: the people, and our BiAnnual Report measures progress while our youth program develops talent. Finally, the Workplace: what is it like inside the walls of your organization? Are all voices heard? How do we stop micro-inequities to truly build a new system that works for all?

From that annual conversation, we have created workshops to bring into businesses. We can literally come into your workplace and guide folks through, often difficult conversations. We work to create an environment where people are NOT afraid to be fearless. And, finally, we are on the journey with our clients. We want to learn with them. We at The BrandLab are not experts in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We are experts in getting organizations to begin to self-correct and find ways to create a new culture where all talent is engaged and able to thrive.

Q: Now that people are aware of this information, what’s one thing folks can do today to help the BrandLab and its partners continue to transform the industry? 

EW: Host an intern! Join our Fearless Conversation by answering our Three Fearless Questions.  Share your responses with a colleague. Ask someone how they might answer them.  We are always looking for new partners to join our movement to change the face and voice of an entire industry to truly reflect the mosaic of our globe.

To learn more about The BrandLab, please visit their website. You can access their 2018 State of the Industry report by clicking here. To learn more about the BE MSP Professionals of Color effort at Make It. MSP, please click here