For starters, they have to acknowledge cultural blind spots

Before a campaign goes live, Whtwrks’ incoming president Tamara Zachery and her teammates do a “gut check,” allowing people to be honest and share thoughts and concerns they have with the look and feel of creative—even if it’s uncomfortable.

Although the agency hasn’t had any internal diversity issues in the time that Zachery has been there, she said Whtwrks has a “cultural responsibility” to its clients and employees.

“Everybody has to have a deep understanding of issues [relating to everyone], particularly in multicultural audiences,” Zachery told Adweek. “We spend a lot of time giving people the space and honoring their voice, to talk about things in the news, or what we’re seeing or how we’re feeling.”

Over the course of the pandemic and amid The Great Resignation, agency employees from marginalized communities are actively looking to be part of workplaces that not only address society’s cultural issues, but also provide them long-term career growth that’s often been overlooked in traditionally white spaces. Adweek spoke with four agency leaders who are addressing these issues head on and what they want to accomplish over time.

Confronting social issues
Like many agencies last summer, Universal McCann immediately reacted to George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests across the globe. The agency gave employees a day off, emphasizing that non-Black employees use that time to educate themselves on what was happening, and for people within the Black community to support their mental health.

But when eight people—including six Asian women—were shot and killed at three massage parlors in Atlanta in March, several UM employees reached out to then-head of diversity Jeff Marshall to ask what the agency was doing to address the rise of racist attacks against people in the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

Marshall, who was recently elevated to chief diversity officer within the C-suite, recalls this experience being a vital example of how UM employees “feel empowered enough” to speak up to leadership because they know it’ll open up a line of communication, allowing management to ask, “What do you think our next step might be?”

“We just try to make sure we know what our blind spots are and how to cover them,” Marshall said, acknowledging his own and how he wants to improve that.

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