Why We RALLY for Diversity

By Dr. Toya Johnson-Moore and Felix Schein

Dr. Toya Johnson-Moore (left) is RALLY’s Manager of People and Culture based in the Los Angeles office and Felix Schein (right) is RALLY’s President

Census data, and our own eyes, should tell us we live in a diverse country. More than a third of the US population identifies as Black and/or Latino or Hispanic and, brace yourselves, half the population is female (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018).

In California, where RALLY is headquartered, the numbers are even more diverse. While we have the same male | female ratio, 39% of the population is Hispanic or Latino and 15% of Asian origin (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018). Taken together, those numbers make California a minority-majority state, a term that seems as dated as gee-whiz or by-golly.

So, given all that diversity, including all the women around us, how is it possible we still see so many businesses with teams that are overwhelmingly white and male? And we’re not just talking about banks or energy companies, but about political consultancies, advertising agencies, and public relations firms — companies whose very value proposition relies on having some measure of cultural competency and the ability to engage diverse audiences.

And who is hiring these firms anyway — and why? Don’t clients benefit when the firms they work with are staffed and run by people who share some common bond with the audience they are trying to reach? It certainly seems so to us. And let’s go one step further, even if there wasn’t a business benefit to diversity, wouldn’t it still make sense to foster it for other reasons? Of course. There are a million reasons why fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace makes sense, some of which translate to a company’s bottom line and some to our country’s bottom line.

In our experience, a more diverse team has led to a workplace that is more fun, exciting, and culturally relevant and therefore more creative, productive, and versatile. For our clients, that’s meant better results and more interesting work because we have added more brains, more ideas and built in the practice of asking questions and bringing in different viewpoints. And for us — more diversity has equaled a healthier culture.

And here’s the kicker, creating a diverse and inclusive workplace — and therefore doing better work for your clients — doesn’t require some kind of magic. To quote Bernard Coleman III, Uber’s Head of DI,

“The №1 reason progress is not advanced is because it is not prioritized. It is fundamentally a lack of will and sustained follow-through.”

We agree, and we know it to be true because we needed to both make diversity a RALLY priority and then work our butts off to make it a reality. In 2013, the year we started this enterprise, RALLY’s team was 80% white and 75% female. By the end of 2018, that percentage of white folks was down to 60% even as the percentage of female employees held steady, and as an enterprise we are more ethnically, geographically, and culturally diverse than ever. That is, in our opinion, progress. But it is progress for reasons that may be less obvious:

1. The quota isn’t what drove us. What motivated us is what a more diverse workforce allows us to do. When we are trying to engage and mobilize underrepresented Americans we are doing so with a team that understands and shares their experience. That gives our work authenticity and credibility and removes barriers for engagement. In short, it makes us better at what we do.

2. Diversity without empowerment is not diversity. If the white guys determine the process and make all the final decisions, the end result is white and male. Companies must stress values and goals that respect each individual’s right to his or her own beliefs while offering equal opportunities. So, do that and get out of the way and give your team the freedom to develop its own approach, its own ideas, its own decision-making process. We did. When you don’t, you get the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad — many of the right people in the room but the wrong outcome because the process didn’t appropriately empower the right people.

3. You have to challenge everything — including personal inherent/unconscious biases. Deciding diversity of people and thought matters is step one. Checking your hiring materials and interview process for bias, engaging in ongoing and extensive recruitment, and opening your company culture to change, among other actions, are what must follow. Without those steps, all you have is a goal with no way of making it real. Institutional racism and bias are everywhere and so they must be challenged everywhere.

4. The work is never done. Cultural diversity includes sexual orientation, education, language, socioeconomic status, and regional origin, among other things. In that context, RALLY has work still to do. We are, among other things, more coastal and more economically advantaged than we strive to foster in a truly diverse team. There is no finite moment when you are diverse enough — we continue to build on this every day because we can always do more, challenge more, understand more.

When asked why Elon Musk managed to bring an electric car to market when none of the traditional automakers had done so, a client of ours responded, “Because he wanted to.” Whether that’s the full story or not, it turns out “wanting to” can make a significant difference. But that desire or “will”, to go back to Mr. Coleman’s statement, needs to be coupled with purpose and a plan that leads to true diversity.

RALLY is an issue-driven communications firm | Certified force for good by B Corporation
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