What does DEI look like at The Sound?

It’s being asked because it’s February… and as an agency, it’s what our clients and prospective clients ask us for in briefs and proposals, even if the project isn’t DEI related.

But why is it important?

Does it matter if DEI information is only being used to check a box on a form? Yes, it does. If it’s being asked, then proposals/partnerships/endeavors should be selected based on a genuine desire to partner with companies who have similar values NOT just to use the data as a blank statistic. We always hope for initiatives to be genuine but it isn’t always the case.

Similar to many industries, market research and marketing agencies have lacked representation from Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and rarely match the communities they represent and serve. Authentic representation of BIPOC in all sources of digital media/output is important to inspire those groups, break down thought barriers/myths, and elevate role models. 

Take a look at your organization or agency structure. Do the demographics of your marketing, insights, media, or ad teams match the public, groups, or communities you serve? It’s not easy to change the status quo or break systematic barriers… but you have to start somewhere. 

First, look inward, survey, and listen (really listen) to your culture and employees then recognize any barriers from their POV to create a path for success. Here are some shared concerns of Black Professionals (this list is not all-inclusive):

  • Pay Equity – Reports from the Department of Labor (DOL) and other organizations that examine pay show that Black professionals with the same qualifications as their white counterparts often earn less for the same job. Indicating a national average of $0.76 for Blacks per $1 earned by Whites. Often Blacks need to job-hop to obtain fair pay which raises the next challenge (recruiting barriers).
  • Barriers into Corporate – How do you get a foot in the door? There are studies that show qualified applicants are less likely to be contacted for an interview based on an ethnically sounding name, the address listed on their resume, or their LinkedIn profile picture. Referral programs can also create an unintentional disparate impact on POC because the social circle of a primarily white team… will be white. If Blacks “job hop” to be paid fairly, some recruiters will label viable candidates as inconsistent, unreliable, or the “problem”.
  • Mental Health – Many Whites don’t realize the experience of Black professionals is significantly different from their own. Black people are more likely to encounter prejudice and microaggressions than any other ethnic group. Microaggressions may include comments or having a colleague touch their hair without permission. Sometimes dealing with certain interactions is “exhausting” as Blacks often have to code-switch or create a facade, which can take a toll on their psychological well-being. These differences can be a major source of frustration, isolation, strain, and burnout.
  • Deficit of DEI programs – Black (and other POC) professionals are often hired into an organization… and that ends the DEI initiative. They’re often stuck in an entry-level role with no access to training, advocacy for their advancement, or inclusion into the company culture. In some instances, they are a single “diversity hire” and remain an outsider unless they drastically change themselves to fit in (check out Purl on Disney+) which circles back to mental health.
  • Battling Bias – As an international company, some of our overseas or over-the-border comrades will never fully understand the deep-rooted impact of racism in the US and how systematically it’s ingrained in the way we do business. Whether conscious or unconscious, biases are developed and cultivated in US society, the people, and the companies we serve. The impact bleeds through opportunities for hiring, promotion, training, mentorships, etc. 

There are similarities in working in HR and as a Researcher in that we both act as consultants. We are both often looked to for advice, insights, and best practices. So before we look to advise others on their DEI efforts, we turned the mirror on ourselves.

No organization manages DEI perfectly and neither do we. But we’re on the climb and fearless in our methods to build empathy and understanding.

Internally, over the last year, we met our previous goals set and enhanced current programs based on changes to our demographics. We’ve increased our efforts to include a compensation survey and pay transparency; renewed our Jumpstart (diversity hiring) program; established a mobility/mentor program; expanded our leave and mental health policies; revised our values to include “Courageous” and DEI policy to include “Belonging”; and we continue to listen to our staff to better understand them, their stories and address their concerns, big and small.

It’s a journey… ever evolving… changing as we take steps forward and look back at the results of our efforts. 

Life is about perspectives. As you engage at work (or with your employee population), is everyone celebrated, advocated for, supported, and heard equally? Now, what does DEI look like in your organization? Do the research… talk to your staff, listen for understanding, and build empathy. Ensuring there is equality is a starting point but providing equitable resources for BIPOC employees is essential.

Here are some top priorities:

  • Ensure C-Suite and leadership support all DEI initiatives. This is crucial for success.
  • Depending on your job level, be a mentor or advocate. Also, be an ally and, if you have privilege, share it to provide support and access to those who need it.
  • Ensure you know the people of color in your group, department, or organization. Not just their name but find some similarities to build rapport.
  • Ensure your BIPOC employees are offered an equal opportunity for training and resources to support their career growth and keep them marketable. 
  • On the flip side, ensure non-BIPOC employees are educated and exposed to training/education that helps them evolve their POV on ways racism presents itself.
  • Ensure there are mental wellness opportunities for your team and reach out to them for support during times when public acts of violence/racism are at the forefront.
  • Challenge stereotypical beliefs (and those of others around you). It’s hard to get negative views out of people’s heads but it’s important that non-blacks and leaders are vocal when they witness instances of racism, injustice, or bias.
  • Transparency and establishing measurable criteria are key ways to guard against bias in internal processes.
  • Get Help! In the end, everything is a priority and can seem overbearing so start somewhere and reach out to your personal/professional network, hire a DEI Officer (with authority) or outside expert to create a strategy for yourself and/or your team.

How do you know if your initiatives are working?

Listen. Take a survey, and do some internal research to get a pulse of the staff. Be curious to understand the diversity of human experience, be collaborative to foster a sense of belonging, and be courageous to seek out and support a truth that may not match your assumptions. It doesn’t happen overnight but put plans in place and watch them evolve. Remember, no matter what programs/initiatives are launched, there are still people at the heart of these programs, individuals who we need to embrace the programs in their hearts.

Let’s move past DEI as just a box to tick. It’s not ok. I’ve been asked at times throughout my career to give false responses to DEI surveys because the company chose to place other initiatives ahead of DEI. These environments were toxic. I’m grateful to be at a company that keeps DEI ingrained in its business strategy and part of its narrative. Fully embracing DEI can significantly impact a colleague/friend and how they progress in their professional career, and engage in their personal life and within the community. Have fearless empathy!

Black History Month (BHM) aims to recognize the achievements of Black Americans and their contributions. At a time when Black lives are still being taken senselessly, the celebration and recognition should be amplified even louder. We have to continue the journey to equality and the removal of barriers, biases, and prejudices. While issues are played out in our courts and within our government, how are they played out in your everyday life, and your work environment?

For BHM, we want to look inward and elevate some of the newer Black talents in the industry and amplify their perspective, share challenges and insights/accomplishments to hopefully inspire others to take the journey into Market Research.

Full transparency, I gave my team a last-minute request this month to share something personal about their experience in Market Research. Issa Braithwaite’s article is an authentic POV on his experience in the industry over the past almost 6 years; As new talent to the workforce, Wendell Thomas and Nynena Gaye showcased their views on entering the industry on film; New to the industry as a researcher, Jeremy Catledge showcased his multi-facet skills in film creation and editing. 

Thank you, Issa, Nynena, Wendell, and Jeremy.

Let’s celebrate them for:

  • Pursuing roles in an industry with less than 10% Blacks
  • Having the courage to sometimes be one of the only ones in the room or at the table during client meetings and sharing perspectives that impact their community
  • Having the resilience as a consultant to deal with clients who may not share The Sound’s values
  • Rising above systematic barriers, statistics, biases, etc to become part of the solution
  • Inspiring students, colleagues, friends, family, etc. in their personal and professional networks
  • Being current and future role models 
  • Choosing The Sound for your career journey

While it may seem that choosing a career in a small agency has an insignificant impact on the grander scheme, it only takes one person to inspire, break down barriers/myths, and be a role model. Find their full stories on our website at www.thesoundhq.com

Latasha's Awkward teen photo
Written By:
Latasha James

With over 15 years of business experience specializing in HR and People Operations, Latasha is a visionary who has worked with multiple organizations across a variety of industries, helping them focus on their organizational effectiveness, change management, and talent management strategies. Latasha looks for opportunities to positively impact and support employees so they can develop into their best selves. She will continue to cultivate the DEIB and Anti Racist initiatives at the Sound.

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