Clarity and Perspective about Online Marketing since 2001
The Drift may seem like an odd place to read a column about diversity. And a white guy in his 50s with an English surname may seem an unlikely messenger. But this may not be the precise take on diversity you’re expecting anyway, so you might owe it to yourself, your colleagues and your company to read on.
Stand on stage at any industry conference with the houselights up and you’ll be looking over a sea of mostly white faces. I’m adding nothing new or shocking to the picture by pointing out that African Americans and Hispanics are vastly underrepresented in the world of digital media and marketing. Our racial imbalance pretty closely mirrors the well-chronicled lack of diversity in the larger worlds of advertising and technology. And while critically important, that’s not the final word in this post.
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I think there are other forces, biases and assumptions that foster a damaging and suffocating insularity in the world of digital marketing. They prevent us from accessing and spending the full measure of intellectual capital, and often lead us into disastrously bad decisions.
Gender Bias. The high level presence of Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg and Meg Whitman could lead one to conclude that there’s no gender issue in our business. But the real message is, if you’re a woman who happens to be one of the first hundred Google employees or have enough dough to run the most expensive (and unsuccessful) gubernatorial campaign in US history, then sure…there’s no glass ceiling. But women are simply not adequately represented in boardrooms and company leadership. The real life pause and reset that many must go through when they have children is not something our industry handles terribly well. 52% of the best minds in our business are not proportionately represented in leadership roles. Hard stop.
Educational Elitism. Look at the entrepreneurs who get funded, the C-Suite executives who get hired again and again, and the VCs and bankers who fuel the business; you can trace the vast majority back to a tiny handful of elite MBA programs. No matter how great these programs are, the pool of experience and ideas is just too shallow. We’re going to need connectors, synthesists, artists and other broad thinkers. Our bias against liberal arts will hurt us as we move further into the conceptual age of our business.
Gray Hair. Recently a close friend of mine – an amazingly talented career media seller – shared with me how several recruiters told her – directly – that her age would hurt her in getting her next job in the industry. The fact that a recruiter was willing to talk about this directly tells me the problem is pretty awful. Experience, wisdom and the long view are things we need more of, not less.
At your next management offsite, at your next board meeting, ask the questions. Are we subtly fostering a “people like us” culture? What are we doing to fix it? And how much does it cost us every day we fail to act?