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Education Drives Change

Aliyah Mallak Jun. 11, 2020

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress in every society, in every family. “ - Kofi Annan

Learning and educating start from the moment we enter the world. We learn to walk, talk, and feed ourselves while our parents teach us through their own behaviors. Then we go to school. We learn to interact with other people and we learn from their behaviors - what to do and what not to do. Our teachers are responsible for specific knowledge - science, math, history, literature, and the really good ones help prepare us for the “real world” after high school.

But what happens after we graduate high school or college? Who is responsible for teaching us then? While many adults still call their parents for help and advice, many also stop learning things that aren’t related to their job after graduation.

Roughly a quarter of Americans haven’t read a book, in part or in full, in the last year. On the bright side, that means 75% have read at least one book in the last year.

In short, you are a product of what your teachers and family taught you. It has a lot to do with where you grew up, and whether or not you were actually taught how to learn, or even taught to enjoy learning. For those who weren’t so lucky to grow up in that sort of environment, the choice to be accountable to one’s self is still there, but maybe not so clear. And that is a lot of what we are seeing right now; the current fight for racial justice and equality is a glaring example of what it takes to get people to pay attention and learn about issues that have always been a part of their everyday lives. And while we can criticize and ask why it’s taken so long for Americans to be accountable for educating themselves, we’re just happy that it’s happening now.

In 2014, CBS and the New York Times ran a poll surrounding the support for the protests in Ferguson. Fifty-nine percent said that the protesters had gone too far and only 20% said they had an appropriate response. Compare that to the current George Floyd protests where 64% of people support the protests and only 27% do not, and we can see a small change starting to happen. Couple that with officers being arrested for police brutality and the reopening of formerly closed and dismissed cases, and the world is taking a step in the right direction.

And the best way to facilitate lasting change and growth is education.

We can educate ourselves on the history of minority groups and how they were and are treated. We can listen to the hardships these groups have endured in their personal and professional lives. We can learn that only 23.7% of advertising professionals are African American, Asian, or Hispanic, while they collectively make up 37% of the population. And in this case, we are just talking about race.

We will never truly know what it is like to be someone else. We can assume, imagine, empathize, but we never really know what it’s like to walk in someone else's shoes. So if we truly want to help drive change, we have to continuously educate ourselves. Diversity is fluid, as we grow and change as a human race, we become more complex as individuals and groups, and so should our understanding of each other and our identities. The need for greater inclusion efforts will continue to expand.

But education can’t facilitate change without application.

We have a particularly complex responsibility in the advertising industry when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Simply put, it’s two-fold, you need a diverse team to create inclusive ads.

So how do you get your organization to that point? First, get past the point of hiring to meet quotas. While we may think we are beyond this, the numbers show this is not the case.

To get from A to Z, we need to understand the components. In an ideal world, the lifecycle looks something like this:

  • Educate the next generation of (diverse) marketers. Most high school and college students don’t even know the multitude of career paths in advertising and media. While organizations such as the AAF and AEF are already doing great work in this space, they need the continued support of businesses who will hire from this talent pool to get students to the next step and start their careers.
  • Hire diverse candidates at all levels of your organization. When thinking about HR and talent initiatives, we tend to think from the top down or the bottom up. In the case of diversity, you need to approach it from both directions. It absolutely has to be supported by the most senior leadership, but once the commitment is there, the initiative needs to be present at all levels, all the time.
  • Commit to supporting and developing diverse talent. At this point in today’s conversation around racial equality, one should understand that minorities live through each day at a disadvantage. This means that in order to achieve equality in the workplace, a conscious effort must be made to developing your diverse talent and setting diverse employees up for success on projects and promotions. If the playing field is not already level in your organization, it’s time to tip the scale in favor of those who need it most. If you’re not sure where to start, this can be aided with mentoring, coaching, and training aimed towards achieving specific developmental goals.
  • Equal pay and promotions. If you are not sure whether this exists in your organization, it might be time for HR to do an audit. We talk about making data-based decisions all the time in order to attract, develop, and retain talent. The data is there, so work with it. It’s also helpful to conduct a survey with your employees to see where their perceptions stand versus what the data says. If the two are not aligned there is work to be done, starting with communication.
  • Look at your numbers in relation to similar companies. How do you measure up to the industry norms? When it comes to racial diversity, if your team is 76% white, you’re average. Set a goal to break the barriers and stick to it. That’s what change means.
  • Train your entire organization. It doesn’t really matter who knows what already. Every single person in every company can benefit from Diversity and Inclusion training. As evidenced by the current state of the conversation in our country, we all have a whole lot to learn and it changes every day. So make sure the training is ongoing, and even better, an onboarding requirement for all new hires.

    In other news…

    The Ad Learning Exchange is committed to helping change and educate the advertising industry towards Diversity and Inclusion by offering a new program for marginalized students, the ALEx Scholars program. ALEx Scholars works with HBCUs and minority students to provide access to a collegiate marketing curriculum with industry-relevant courses, preparing them for on-the-job effectiveness right out of school.

    Stay tuned to hear more about ALEx Scholars in the coming weeks and learn how you can get involved.