Recruiting and retaining racially diverse talent continues to vex marketers due to a fundamental disconnect between the resources being invested in diversity initiatives and a lack of inclusiveness felt by diverse workers.  Those were among the key conclusions of a study by the ANA Educational Foundation (AEF) that explored why the marketing and advertising industries have traditionally and consistently encountered difficulty attracting and retaining diverse talent.

Three underrepresented populations in the advertising, marketing, and media industries were at the core of the report: African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans.

According to a release, the report, “Charting a More Diverse Pathway to Growth,” follows a 2017 AEF study, “Bridging the Talent Disconnect: Charting Pathways to Future Growth,” which identified significant structural disconnects between academia and industry. This year’s study uncovered the same structural disconnects when analyzing this issue through a racially diverse lens.

 “There have been many admirable initiatives to try to solve how we can improve the mix and quality of diverse talent in the industry,” the report said. “However, the industry has focused too narrowly on improving diversity numbers and scorecards. Instead the focus must now shift to how we can be more inclusive as an industry, both to attract and retain outstanding diverse talent.”

The study also concluded that inclusivity signals to the next generation of talent that their voices truly matter, that they belong in the marketing and advertising industry, and that their talent is sorely needed.

When interviewed for the study, a group of racially diverse new hires and students indicated that breaking into the marketing industry and staying in the business was incredibly difficult. They identified four key factors:

  • Management Disconnect: While new hires appreciate being provided with opportunities, workplace relationships are still not optimal. Several respondents said they feel like their managers can’t relate to the challenges they face regarding diversity, and they often don’t trust them to share these experiences or perspectives for fear of “causing trouble” and retaliation (e.g., delayed promotion).
  • Microaggressions: New hires described experiences best characterized as microaggressions, which were interpreted as insults to their culture and intelligence. These included incidents in which coworkers engaged in offensive behaviors that left the respondents feeling uncomfortable, disrespected, and helpless to address such behavior.
  • Cultural Illiteracy: Many minority new hires said a lack of cultural understanding in the workplace made them feel on edge, trying to ensure they didn’t inadvertently cross a line, but also making sure that past stereotypes weren’t assigned to them.
  • Workplace Integration Dissonance: New hires indicated they often felt uncomfortable starting conversations around diversity due to a perceived risk of losing their jobs. When organic cultural conversations happened, new hires said they carefully picked and chose their battles, mostly opting not to engage to avoid conflict and not to be heard as a lone voice in the room.

The report recommended that marketers follow the guidelines set forth by the ANA’s Talent Forward Alliance to help them attain progress in attracting diverse talent.

A copy of the full report is available at https://aef.com/diversity-disconnect/.

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