Make / Change: A Strategy for Racial Equity in Creative Companies

6 min readAug 31, 2020

Two months ago, we started breaking and remaking our culture to make R/GA a place in which everyone can succeed, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Rather than rushing to put out a series of arbitrary pledges, we wanted to understand the nature of our own problem, so we did what we would do for any strategic project. We listened; we researched; and we looked for opportunities and behaviors that would give us the best chance of success.

We’re publishing our strategy here, in case other companies want to use it to accelerate their own path towards an anti-racist culture. Of note: it’s a strategy and not a success story, as we have a lot of work to do.

However, this has gone on long enough. Time to try something different.

Finding #1: Most DEI plans look the same (and according to the data, they’re not working)

We looked at dozens of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plans across the technology, design and advertising sectors. What we found was a long list of companies falling on the same hurdles that we are.

Many plans looked the same, and used similar language: the language of earnest commitment. “We commit to this percentage. We will achieve this goal. We will hold our leaders accountable. We will do better. Annual unconscious bias training for all.”

Missing from most of these plans is any sense of HOW; how anyone was planning to go about these goals, and how this time would be different. Anything presented as a series of finite targets doesn’t allow for new information you might discover along the way, or for the fact that cultures can be messy, and the work of anti-racism is never done.

We needed a playbook, not a pledge.

Finding #2: We have to design for OUR culture.

It also struck us as unusual that the plans we reviewed came from different companies with famously different cultures, yet all contained the same actions. Why the cookie-cutter approach?

There are clearly some best practices that need to be respected; but our hypothesis is that the more generic the plan, the less likely it is to work. We need to design for the idiosyncrasies of OUR culture, nobody else’s.

R/GA is a weird company with a fast-moving, creative culture which places a lot of emphasis on employees helping themselves. On the plus side, if you don’t like something, there’s usually permission to invent something better. On the minus side, we hear the phrase ‘sink or swim’ too often.

What we concluded, therefore, is that a ‘to do’ list for leadership and our talent department would never be enough to change us. Employee-owned actions, plus shared ownership, would be vital.

We would need to leave room for everyone to contribute.

Finding #3: Our current Black employees are the most important stakeholders.

We’ve worked on a number of employer branding and recruiting initiatives for our clients, and the truth is as consistent as gravity:

The best way to get someone to want to work at a company is for them to have a positive conversation with somebody like them who works at that company.

Social media is an extraordinary amplifier of conversations about equity of any kind, from #MeToo, to #BlackLivesMatter, to the spreadsheet of ‘Real Advertising Salaries’. In short: people talk, and now they can be heard. We also know that Black employees were the most likely to leave us; and across the industry, most likely to be underleveled.

We concluded that rushing to hire more people of color and ‘improving our diversity numbers’ were secondary to creating an equitable environment for current Black R/GAers, and letting word of mouth work. In our offices in which Black representation is minimal or lacking, we believe that doing the work to create an anti-racist culture will dramatically increase the likelihood of retaining the Black talent we do hire.

We had to start with equity, not diversity.

These three findings lead to our playbook. We call it Make / Change.

Make / Change

Make / Change is a series of actions we will carry out on an ongoing basis, that allows for different groups and offices to take and adapt, that puts our current Black employees first, and that prioritizes action on behalf of the entire company, not just leadership or HR.

These five actions will run concurrently, and each has a different owner, thus spreading the responsibility and making racial equity everybody’s job.

Make / Clear

Shine light on the problem. Keep listening.

Make / Right

Evolve our internal processes.

Make / Smart

Make anti-racist education and conversation a daily and visible practice.

Make / Work

Use our creativity to take the fight for racial equity outside of R/GA.

Make / Room

Mentor the next generation.

Once a quarter, in tandem with the publication of our diversity data, we’ll meet to assess the results of our activity. Then, based on our ongoing listening, we’ll choose priorities for the next quarter.

Make / Change @ R/GA: Phase One

Below are some specifics of the actions that are already underway at R/GA. However, the point is not to replicate these actions: it’s to find the ones that work for you.

Our listening revealed that people aren’t getting the feedback or recognition they need to progress; not all of our managers are guiding, or managing objectively; that bias in the creative process, both work and team casting, is real; and that we need more accountability and advocacy against racism and microaggressions.

Our first actions are designed to address these immediate priorities.

Make / Clear.

  • Biweekly “Brave Spaces”: listening sessions between POC and leadership.
  • Internal transparency around Pay Equity (for which we’re already audited) and how our incident investigation process works.
  • Quarterly publishing of our data.

We also saw the creation of a Black Leadership Coalition (BLC) of Black executives at R/GA. Cross-disciplinary and self-formed, the BLC was created as a guiding voice on our efforts to create racial equity at R/GA; and a conduit between more junior Black employees and leadership.

Make / Right.

  • Manager workshops: ‘how to lead unbiased performance reviews’
  • Empathy training

Next: a full analysis of the employee journey — hiring, onboarding, team building

Make / Smart.

  • Ongoing education through Crescendo on Slack.
  • #theintersection channel for discussion on issues of equality.
  • Leadership coaching on EDI.
  • Mandatory two-hour workshop on Allyship to the Black community for all US employees, created by Brandon, Elyse, Bria and Michael.

Next: Courageous Conversation training for all US employees

Make / Work.

  • Analysis of diversity in our freelance and production partners.
  • Commitment to Free The Work, an organization designed to bring more diverse creators into commercial creativity
  • The CDC (Creative Diversity Coalition): a team of diverse RGA employees formed to help stem the spread of stereotypes and bias in creative work.

Next: Launch of Last Moment of Silence, a tool to help others commit to Allyship

Make / Room.

  • Partnership with MAIP for both internships and mid-level talent
  • Partnership with Verizon AdFellows to hire more up-and-coming talent
  • Sponsorship of two student places at the One School, The One Club’s curriculum for Black creatives

We’ll be publishing changes to this plan, and data, as we go.





R/GA is a global innovation company. We design businesses and brands for a more human future.