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Uncomfortable Conversations: How one DE&I consultant is pushing agency CEOs for real change

This is part of a recurring series of Q&As called “Uncomfortable Conversations,” taking on the sometimes tough, but always necessary, discussions about inclusion in advertising. This series spotlights the many diverse voices that make up this industry—at all levels and in all disciplines—highlighting their personal experiences to illustrate the importance of inclusion and equity throughout the entire ecosystem.

Today we speak with Lauren Tucker, CEO and founder of strategic management consultancy Do What Matters. The firm says it helps advertising “agencies turn diversity into actions that drive growth.” Do What Matters has consulted shops like The Martin Agency after a #MeToo scandal toppled former Chief Creative Officer Joe Alexander in 2017, as well as Noble People, Periscope, and its parent Quad/Graphics. In July, employees of Periscope, led by former Group Strategy Director Nathan Young, walked out of the agency in protest over Quad/Graphics’ actions regarding social justice.

The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Tell me a little about your background and the consultancy you’re running now.

I’ve had a consultancy, Do What Matters, for some time. After George Floyd’s murder, we saw a plethora of commitments from agencies. I’ve been in this business for 30 years. In my 30 years, the numbers haven’t changed. It’s groundhog day. I do not doubt the intentions [from agencies] but there is something happening that is preventing those intentions from creating impact. The diversity indexes, they just aren’t enough. The chief diversity officers of holding companies are lovely people but they are underfunded and they often don’t have that senior level of in-the-weeds agency management [responsibilities] to integrate inclusion across the agency.

All of this became the reason why I decided to pivot my business. I had to come up with a way to help agencies design, build and execute sustainable, behavioral-based inclusion solutions.

What does that entail?

I focus on inclusion management specifically within the agencies I work with. My goal is to help these agencies increase their representation and drive quality and growth through better work. My focus is on [creating] opportunity. Opportunity is [steeped] in exclusion and bias—sometimes based on race, sometimes nepotism, sometimes cronyism, sometimes sexism. We know through a variety of studies that 84% of ads don’t get noticed or remembered and 70% of creative directors are white men. I believe it’s because opportunity is not defined by talent but by some of these other ways, whether it’s nepotism or racism. I help make inclusion the default. I help agencies design and execute behaviorally based solutions that are integrated into the day-to-day.

What are those solutions?

I customize solutions for each client. So some of my clients come to me out of the rubble of crisis. Some come to me because they’re very proactive and they’ve done a good job of hiring and attracting at a mid-to-junior level, but as we have seen, the real test is growing diversity and representation at executive levels.

We work with smaller teams. The CEOs and presidents are my co-conspirators. It’s really important to uncover issues that are operational. When there are operational issues, everybody gets hurt. I’m complimentary to other DE&I teams. I look at where opportunity is being hoarded, and that includes when white guys aren’t getting the opportunity to reach their full potential. I lift all boats to help agencies take full advantage of the opportunities in front of them.

I come in with a new vocabulary. I talk a lot about how bias enters the culture. We all got them; let’s acknowledge them and move forward. I build small teams to help build solutions. I tell my clients that I’d rather have a group of people who are in charge of the vigilance and accountability in keeping these inclusion solutions sustainable over time. Those groups are made up of 10 to 20 people, depending on the size of the agency.

Where has the industry gone wrong in implementing these DE&I solutions?

Where the industry has failed is really in integrating inclusion solutions into these operations so that inclusion becomes the norm and is sustainable over time. We need to increase representation one agency at a time. My mission is to put myself out of business and move to Panama. Unfortunately, there is a lot of work to do.

I want to make the industry better for people of color and Black women like me whose careers have been blocked. I mentor a lot of young Black women who are at the mid-level and are ready to leave [because they don’t see promotional opportunities]. This isn’t a pipeline problem. The pipeline is broken. Too many Black women are not getting the sponsorship and advancement they deserve.

Can you tell me more about Do What Matters and what your goals are for the consultancy? Do you ever envision expanding past agencies to consult, let’s say, brands?

We’re a team of three. Rob Jackson is one of my consultants. He spent 15 or so years with Burrell Communications then went client side to [serve as marketing director for] McDonald’s. We also have Karyn Rockwell, former CEO of FCB New York. Karyn’s expertise is in sexual harassment and Rob’s is in diversity.

I would love to put myself out of business. I’d love to expand in 2021 but right now I’m quite oversubscribed. This is typically the case in the industry with DE&I consultants. It is exhausting work, especially as a person of color. I try to get everybody to understand that this is not a comfortable journey for anyone.

I’ve been walking into rooms, virtual or real, full of white people for the past 30 years. I have not seen anybody who looks like me. I live in perpetual discomfort. As a Black person in an industry that is some 80% white, with clients that are largely white, I walk in rarely seeing people like me. While I choose to walk into white spaces, I can’t choose the terms. It is exhausting work. When I talk to other DE&I consultants, we talk about the importance of not oversubscribing ourselves because of the emotional toll it takes to do this work.

What would you like to see from the industry to get the support you need?

I do want to write a book specifically geared toward marketing and cultural industries so I can provide leadership with a better model for inclusion and diversity moving forward. If they have the commitment, they will hire people like me or they will figure out how to do this from the inside. I don’t have a secret sauce. My secret sauce is determination to make things happen.

We have to first stop living in the problem, and not getting beyond the numbers to action. It takes complete dedication from the people at the top of these organizations. That’s why I refuse to be passed onto a chief diversity officer. I only work with an agency after I talk to the CEO and feel confident that he or she is going to be on board.

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