RasAmen Oladuwa and Olivia Torres
As women of color in marketing, we know what it’s like to be “the only one in the room.”
We’re used to rolling up our sleeves and elbowing our way into a seat at the table with our white and male colleagues. It’s easier today than it was for Black, Indigenous and other people of color in years past. The world is changing, and minds seem more open with each generation.
But even now, we are always aware that the lens through which we tell stories is often not our own.
Marketing is our narrative landscape. Everything we do is touched by stories, all of which are created to tell us which cars to drive, whom to vote for, how to protect our families and what to protect them from. In short, marketing tells us what to want and what to value.
In his study “Rebranding Diversity: Colorblind Racism Inside the U.S. Advertising Industry,” Christopher Boulton describes advertising – the most familiar marketing arena – as a cultural shaper and mirror “offering up ‘images of well-being’ that represent people and cultures as either within or outside the norm.”
So it comes as no surprise that marketing shows the norm of its privileged creators.
In November 2018, the Association of National Advertisers released “A Diversity Report for the Advertising/Marketing Industry.” It found that although the general marketing workforce skewed strongly female, ethnic diversity failed repeatedly to show significant progress.
Combined, Black and Latinx marketing professionals only accounted for 8% of chief marketing officers and 13% of senior-level positions. Statistics regarding Asian and Indigenous professionals and specifically women of color were not reported, but the math does not look promising.
To combat inequality, we are usually told to look inward, unpack our biases and meet the experiences of others with humility. We are asked to combat these injustices by becoming more educated and conscious individuals.
This American brand of exclusion was built by design over centuries, so we must do more than self-evaluate.
Equity requires dedicated time, sustained effort and actionable focus. We cannot conduct business as usual and hope a candidate of color comes our way. We have to look at our systems, one of which is “closed network hiring.”
Boulton calls this process a key roadblock to progress, “a system that advantages affluent whites through referral hires, subjective notions of ‘chemistry’ or ‘fit,’ and outright nepotism through ‘must-hires.’ ”
This insulated cycle sweeps inequality under the rug and names itself “color-blind meritocracy,” protecting the “norm” from criticism and change.
We must dedicate resources to seeking out candidates of color where they are. We must be willing to value BIPOC individuals’ potential for success in the same way white men have always valued each other’s. We must identify and challenge industry barriers to entry.
And, most importantly, we must consciously elevate BIPOC candidates to leadership roles so the decisions they make affect the stories we tell.
Although there is a documented, positive correlation between a company’s diversity and its bottom line, we urge you to think beyond financial gain.
We are professionals with an ethical opportunity to connect the people in our communities to goods, services, information and resources that represent their lived experiences.
Through our work, we can show the complexity of our landscape and shift the lens for a chance at a better view.
RasAmen Oladuwa and Olivia Torres are the founders and co-chairs of The Content Creators of Color Project, a committee of Start Fort Wayne.
Olivia Torres & RasAmen Oladuwa
Journal Gazette & AVOW Advancing Voices of Women
4 April 2021