The business imperative behind inclusion and diversity

In the second part of a two-part interview, Lauren Tucker discusses the importance of an enriched, diverse talent portfolio. Dr. Tucker (PhD in journalism and mass communication) is founder of Do What Matters, a consultancy dedicated to promoting diversity in the marketing services industry, with a special focus on agencies — but her insights have application across all kinds of business teams.

Improving cultural and social wellness within a business like an agency is an ethical imperative. Right now, employers need to pay attention to mental wellness too. “Agencies are feeling a lot of pressure,” said Dr Tucker. “Their feeling squeezed margins by the growing in-house movement, increased competition from consultancies, more demanding clients. I mean, it has gotten even worse since COVID -— everybody just feels like they need access all the time and they can get it through Zoom or Teams or cell phones or what have you. And then rising employee and customer activism means that there’s a lot of consciousness that has been raised. Throughout, not just the last year but really throughout the last three years.”

Read the first part of our interview with Lauren Tucker

Clearly, some employees are bearing the brunt of burnout, workplace harassment, discrimination, and blocked opportunities more than others. “When you look at the entire industry, it is no wonder that people of color, women, and other disadvantaged groups are feeling the pain. It’s great if you have Chief Diversity Officers, etc, but if you don’t really focus on transformational change that is going to have impact, then you’re really focusing on a lot of things.”

Managing the talent portfolio

But there’s a business imperative behind inclusion and diversity too. “We really frame the conversation around talent,” Dr Rucker explained, “so that managers and leaders and people in the C-suite start to see that, if there is a failure, if they have brought somebody in and that person is not performing at the level that they had expected, then they need to take the responsibility for that hire and they need to start figuring out how to invest in that person’s development and learning. There needs to be a very specific job description of what that person is expected to do on day one, and then you need to make it very clear what do they need to do specifically to get to the next level.”

And of course there’s still a glass ceiling. “I’m still getting people reaching out to me who are at the VP or SVP level, especially women of color — and I will say this very emphatically —  women of color at the VP and SVP level have not gotten the kind of sponsorship they deserve, and not gotten the opportunities they deserve. And when I follow up, I get the same answer which is, you know, she’s really great. She’s really  a utility player. We just don’t know what to do with her. Wow, okay. I don’t think any of these people have admitted or or even understand what they’re admitting at that point.”

One thing they’re revealing, said Tucker, is that they do not understand how to manage talent. “Without talent you don’t have an agency,” she said. “If you are not putting talent at the center of your business, you are missing the key aspect of the marketing communications industry. Robots can’t do this; programmatic can’t do what these people do. It needs talent, human talent — creative innovation comes from human energy, and you must manage that talent.”

Investing in learning and development is essential to recruiting the best talent -— winning the war for talent, Dr Tucker calls it. “Right now we’re looking at a huge uptick in marketing spending, and leaders are going to start to feel the pain if they haven’t managed their talent portfolios, with the same passion that they manage their investment portfolios.”

At smaller agencies, the CEO needs to own responsibility for the talent portfolio.  “I do that with my own company,” said Tucker. “I have an incredibly inclusive team. Some are contractors, some are employees, but I treat them all as part of my team and I know they know more than I do about their areas of expertise. I rely on them to give me advice and counsel, and they feel part of the mission.”

Minimize bias in the recruitment process

When it comes to minimizing bias in the recruitment process, Tucker again directs attention to operational rather than individual aspects: “Especially focusing on organizational behavior, less on individual consciousness raising and awareness. How are we going to change the system so that we minimize bias? When we minmize bias, we minimize what we call cultural homogeneity.”

With her clients, Tucker seeks to institute an  inclusive talent management process, part of which is inclusive hiring. “We’ve really reworked and revolutionized the way that our clients attract talent, recruit talent.” 

Read next: How Tissa Hami brought performance skills to diversity training

She calls for radical changes to the interview process. “I’m so shocked that we continue to interview talent in that one to one monastic way. Not only is it full of bias, it’s also really inefficient. You’re really succumbing to the tyranny of the urgent, that’s when bias, familiarity and comfort comes in. Regardless of how progressive many of these leaders are, they’ll still rely on the people they used to work with, largely white and male, who they feel comfortable with. I think what we need to do is be a lot more proactive in terms of workforce planning, we need to be a lot more proactive in terms of changing the game of recruiting and interviewing talent, so that the process is more efficient.”

She suggests panel interviews using screening questions. “These are things that have been shown to ensure that the people who are hired have the highest probability of job success, but it also reduces, not only the time and the energy that people put into the hiring process. It also reduces the opportunity for bias to come in. Cultural homogeneity, and that is something that the industry can’t afford because it undermines creativity.”

The importance of enriching the talent portfolio

“The industry’s numbers are never really reliable,” said Tucker, “but let’s just say the latest numbers that I’ve seen is that the marketing industry is about 70% white. That is not representative of the marketplace. You must enrich your talent portfolio, and unleash their potential, because you need to focus on creating cultural content that is memorable, meaningful and remarkable to an increasingly multicultural and global audience.  You must embrace a richer talent portfolio that is that is elevating the relevant differences, whether it’s race and ethnicity, or whether it’s gender, it doesn’t matter. It matters that you are cultivating a rich talent portfolio where the differences are representative of the interest, the desires, the dreams of those people in the marketplace.”

If your content isn’t memorable, meaningful and remarkable, said Tucker, “if you aren’t hitting those three things, you aren’t going to connect.  And, you know what? Your competitors are going to eat your lunch.”

This story first appeared on MarTech Today.

About The Author

Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech Today. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space. He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020. Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.

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