A ‘Business Imperative:’ Starter Ideas on Recruiting for Diversity

With the news that both HP and General Mills are requiring their ad agencies’ creative departments to be more gender and racially diverse, it’s time to take recruiting and retaining for diversity even more seriously. “Including women and people of color in key roles is not only a values issue, but a significant business imperative,” HP’s CMO, Antonio Lucio writes. I wrote earlier why recruiting and retaining women matters, but when your clients mandate it, it’s no longer a question.

I’ve heard hiring managers complain that there just aren’t enough good women candidates or minorities applying. It’s not their fault, they claim, the candidates just aren’t there. I firmly believe it’s not a pipeline problem though, we need to rethink how we recruit for diversity, and then, importantly, how we retain those employees. Let’s start with recruiting.

I was inspired by how Full Frontal with Samantha Bee made sure their writing staff was diverse (50% female and 30% nonwhite), and I think advertising can take a cue from Bee’s hiring practices.

1. Make resumes and portfolios blind

“People do tend to hire and promote people who feel familiar to them,” says Kat Gordon, founder of The 3% Conference. “No one thinks they’re prejudiced, but we all are.”

One simple way to do away with this implicit bias is to strip gender and names from applications and portfolios during the initial application process. One study found that managers of both sexes are twice as likely to hire a man as a woman, even if the male applicant performs more poorly. Another study found that “job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback.”

It’s not easy, and not a fix-all solution, but it’s a start. One tech company found that the use of anonymous application forms are particularly effective at encouraging a more diverse set of applicants and that anonymous hiring generally led to more minorities and women getting called in for interviews.

2. Go beyond the unsolicited portfolio

Ashley Shack, creative recruiter at Wieden+Kennedy says they receive unsolicited portfolios at “a split of about 60 per cent male to 40 per cent female for junior and mid-weight roles, and somewhere in the range of 90 per cent male, 10 per cent female for senior roles.” If you’re only relying on applicants to come to you, and aren’t doing the hard work of looking and reaching out to the right candidates, diversity will continue to be a problem for your department.

3. Reconsider your application and portfolio process

Samantha Bee’s advice on recruiting for writers is a great lesson I think we can figure out how to apply to creatives in advertising. She says “When you’re looking for writers, you create a submission packet for them and you tell them an outline of what you want to receive back as their application … And sometimes they’re just like, ‘Write two headlines and a sketch, thanks so much.’ But Jo … really outlined what the format was — just the way that it looks is really particular to this comedy world. It’s a script style. And if it doesn’t look that way … it tells you a person is inexperienced. And you don’t look at the words the same way … It’s such a basic leveler to know how your script is supposed to look.”

Are there ways, instead of only judging on a particular way a portfolio is presented, to have the applicants come in and concept with the team? Or sketch up an idea? How can we level the application playing field in advertising the way Bee has done with her writer’s room?

Because Samantha Bee leveled the application process, her writers room is a mix of experience levels: there is one writer who was previously at Letterman and another whose last job was at the Maryland DMV. “If we don’t do anything else right, we hired incredible people across the board,” says Bee.

4. Hire for potential, not experience

Bee’s writers’ mix of experience shows you should hire for potential, not experience. This one is blatantly stolen from the admirable Cindy Gallop. She says

“Men are hired and promoted on potential, women are hired and promoted on proof.”

When you’re recruiting and interviewing, ask yourself if this person has the potential to do the job you’re asking, instead of proof that she or he has already done it?

Gallop also says “I know a lot of women who are amazingly valuable to my industry in ways that are not explainable on paper. These are women who make sh*t happen, get sh*t done, wrangle vast groups of massively differing personalities and agendas. Women who get things done on tight timelines. That is the kind of talent you want at the top of any company. But senior men and senior talent recruiters say, ‘So what kind of job would she be right for?’ and I go ‘No, no, no, you’ve missed the point.’”

It’s time to think outside the box when it comes to how we understand a candidate’s ability to do the work we’re recruiting for.

5. Do away with the referral bonuses

I know this is going to be controversial, but hear me out. The referral bonus’ purpose is to find qualified candidates within your agency’s network. Refer your buddy or old coworker, you get a nice little reward when they get hired. The problem is, it doesn’t help get new people into the system.

Sarah Hofstetter, CEO of 360i says “Advertising, like many other industries, has historically been a ‘buddy culture.’ Key roles were doled out to the golfing buddies, college buddies, drinking buddies.”

This system rewards cronyism, something that is going to happen referral bonus or not. Because we’re trying to increase diversity, not hire people that look and sound like they already work at your agency, the referral bonus does nothing. Kill it.

6. Put women and people of color in the creative department in charge of recruiting

You can, however, use the “buddy culture” to your advantage if you already have some diverse staff willing to help out with recruiting. As Kate Stanners, chief creative officer of Saatchi & Saatchi, says,

“I put a female team in charge of junior creative recruitment and the change of young women making themselves available to us was amazing. It changed our department overnight.”

If you’ve already been lucky to recruit and retain some diverse talent, get them to help get some more diversity into your agency.

7. Promote those stuck under the glass ceiling

If you’re not hiring for a junior role, have you looked at who on your staff already has the potential to fulfill the role? According to Campaign Live, “In the past year 14% of men in management roles were promoted into higher positions compared with 10% of women.” Reiterating Gallop, promote for potential. It’s likely your junior staff is more diverse than your senior staff. Fix it.

8. Offer telecommuting, flexible schedules, and reasonable work hours

If you want to attract more women and parents, know that most mothers don’t have a stay at home partner to be solely in charge of the sick days, daycare pickup and soccer practice. Studies show even in households with two working (hetero) parents, the mother does more childcare. Because of this, most mothers have to take jobs they can be home in time to do household and childcare duties. Consider allowing parents to work as early as 7 or 8 am, leaving in time to pick the kids up after school or daycare, while childless employees or people with early daycare or preschool drop-off duties benefit from rolling in at 10am and working a little later. Is there a way to get the bulk of the important meetings done mid-day, while the desk work falls early or late, depending on the employee’s needs?

Ashley Shack, Creative Recruiter at Wieden+Kennedy London says “We’ve requested that internal meetings are held between 10am and 4pm, that no emails are sent between 7pm and 8am, and we’re encouraging a 4:30 pm stop on Fridays. These were designed to benefit everyone at W+K London, but it’s encouraging to see mothers responding well.”

If you make your work schedules more flexible, you’ll open up opportunities to a much more diverse talent pool.

9. Start an incubator or mentorship program

Though I don’t believe the diversity issue is a pipeline problem, your company can still benefit from creating your own talent pipeline through an incubator or mentorship program. If you helped get the talent into the industry, you’ll be able to hire and retain them as well.

I also found that many of our best ideas came from the incubator program I oversaw, and students tended to be more diverse than our larger department. It also allows mid-level employees to gain management experience and practice giving feedback.

Samantha Bee is working on a mentorship program for her show too. They’re formulating a plan to attract “pockets of people who don’t formally have access to this world, who want to be in this world, who have no idea how to get there, and who demonstrate some skill in some capacity and a passion for it.” Bee imagines bringing protégés into the office, giving them weekly writing assignments and some instruction.

Tiffany Rolfe, partner at Co:Collective says, “If women in management roles can mentor five other women, our ranks would swell.” How can the managers in your department, men or women, become better mentors to more diverse incoming talent?

10. Pay your interns

On the subject of interns, pay your interns. If you only offer unpaid internships, you will only recruit interns that have the privilege to not take pay. Stop that. Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, explains how not paying interns further contributes to inequality:

“Unpaid internships create a pay-to-play system since only some people can afford to work for zero dollars for longer than a week or two. This ultimately exacerbates social inequality because key professions get filled up with people from privileged backgrounds; it not only affects who gets ahead and does well, it also plays a big role in terms of the voices we hear in the media.”

If we want diverse voices, we need to be willing to pay them.

11. Pay fairly

While we’re on the subject of pay, just pay fairly. Qualified candidates will find out quickly that you’re not offering a competitive salary. What if you were one of the only agencies on this list?

Cindy Gallop suggests that “Every CEO and CFO of every single brand, agency and holding company should review the spreadsheets of the salaries of the entire company, and immediately raise the salary of every single high-performing woman to be at parity with that of the men on her level.” Do that and the publicity alone with have qualified, diverse candidates running to apply to your agency.

12. Be aware of exclusionary language in your job postings

Finally, double check your job postings. Carlo Callegari, recruitment director at BBH says “We need to be mindful to use gender neutral language and imagery in a way women respond to. Take out the gender bias. So no ‘right-hand man for the job’ or ‘rock stars only,’ please.”

Women are also less likely to apply for a job unless they meet every single criteria perfectly, while men will apply if they just mostly fit the criteria. Be aware of this too, and write some flexibility in your posting to get a broader base of candidates.

I have more thoughts on retention, particularly about retaining new parents and women, I’ll get to that in another post.

For more information on recruiting and retaining for diversity check out CreativeEquals.org, AdColor.org and The 3 Percent Conference.