I’ve been noticing something. In the DEI space, it seems as though many of us are approaching data as a “check-the-box” solution, rather than a starting point in the complex process of culture change. Immediately after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, 600 Black agency professionals penned an open letter to industry leaders calling for an end to systemic racism. Spearheaded by Nathan Young and Bennett D. Bennett, the letter outlined 12 actionable steps agencies should take to solve the problem. Two action items — improve the representation of Black talent at all levels across agencies, and track and publicly report on workforce diversity data — deal with the issues of representation head on. This necessary push for data was required to shed light on the problem, and ensure increased transparency amongst agency leaders and decision makers. What I am noticing, though, is a preoccupation with “crunching the numbers” with less of a focus on culture change. The two should go hand in hand.
And while I applaud agencies such as R/GA for our transparency in publishing our representational Make/Change 2022 report, sharing progress since 2020, the industry lacks a unified approach to reporting on representational data. This lack of standardization means that some agencies may release in-depth data on employee representation by race, for example, while other agencies may release only limited information, or not release any such information at all, leading to gaps and inconsistencies.
Even as we look beyond marketing industries, it is clear that discussions about data, data transparency and the best way to ensure that our stakeholders understand the meaning of the numbers, is of critical importance and deserves our attention. As the new Global DEI lead at R/GA, here is what I am struggling with: There is a tendency for organizations to focus on the numbers, with culture change often viewed as something that we are already doing or assuming pre-existing culture change initiatives are adequate. I would argue that in order to attract and retain Black and under-represented talent, discussions about data must be accompanied by discussions about social inequality, working to eradicate bias from the recruitment process, creating pay equity policies and developing processes to ensure employees of all genders feel seen for who they are and that their identities are respected by coworkers, to name a few.
Please do not misinterpret my intention here. A focus on data is critical. Without data, it is difficult to know where gains are being made and where our pain-points are. In 2020 at R/GA, we saw an 180% increase in Black representation in Executive Leadership from 2.5% to 6.3% and 51% of all new hires identified as BIPOC. These gains are important since the industry has been largely inaccessible to Black people and People of Color for some time. These are great “wins,” and we must take pride in our efforts. However, as we say at R/GA, the work is always “in-progress” and never done. There are considerable gains left to be made. What do we make of our pain-points, such as the decline in Asian talent at our agency in 2022 compared to the year prior, a decrease in proportion from 14.5% to 11.8%? We need to ask ourselves about the factors that contributed to this downward trend and what we must do as an agency to interrupt it. The good news is that the data was able to point us in this direction in terms of devising the best interventions.
DEI work requires patience, strategic planning, collaboration and humility. It requires consultation, goal setting and the ability to say “I don’t know.” As a cross-cultural expert, I see the value that data provides. Data becomes a guide for what we prioritize. DEI work is never easy, but over time, a focus on culture change begins to transform agency culture by creating more room for underrepresented talent, especially at senior levels.
And, instead of thinking about data as DEI work, in and of itself, I prefer to think about the outcomes of the data and how they will impact decision-making amongst leaders. True DEI work is messy and complicated. We need the information reported in quarterly data reports, but we also need to engage in discussions about what the data means and the part we will each play in putting the results into practice. At R/GA, we will continue to report on “Make/Change” annually. And while we think about our reporting strategy, we will also be thinking through the following:
- What’s the culture at R/GA? What’s it like for Black people and other underrepresented groups to work here?
- If BIPOC and underrepresented groups leave R/GA, what were their experiences? Why did they leave?
- Are the opinions of BIPOC and other under-represented talent valued at our agency? Do they feel as though they and their work matter to us?
These questions are valuable because they speak to the culture of our workplace. And it is this focus on culture that creates the conditions for the collecting and reporting of data to make sense. Join me in the conversation. How are you and your agency dealing with the question of data, and how best to make use of it? We would love to hear from you.
Dr. Anita Jack-Davies is Management Consultant: Culture and
Operations at R/GA. As part of her role, she works closely with a
wide range of leaders and teams to fine-tune R/GA’s global EDI
An academic and workplace diversity consultant, Jack-Davies is an
EDI expert and thought leader who recently held the role of
Deputy Chief Diversity Officer at Skidmore College and prior to
that, Assistant Dean, EDI at Queen’s University in Kingston,
Ontario, Canada. Jack-Davies earned a PhD in urban teacher
education with a concentration on cultural and policy studies and
has taught in the areas of feminist pedagogy, Black feminisms
and critical theory.
In previous roles, she has provided strategic planning, change
management and leadership development support to federal
agencies in Canada including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,
Global Affairs Canada, Corrections Canada and the Privy Council
She is also currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the
Department of Geography and Urban Planning at Queen’s
University and has appeared widely in the media discussing
diversity in the workplace. Jack-Davies is author of the much
anticipated memoir, Lawrencia’s Last Parang: On Loss and
Belonging as a Black Woman in Canada (May 2023).