Bold visions of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) advancements can help point organizations in the right direction, but actual DEI progress requires setting actionable intentions, individually and as a group, to work towards meaningful change.
This idea was at the heart of Kin Conversations, a recent event hosted by the kyu collective and attended by Kepler, as well as employees from each of the other kyu member companies. During the virtual event, attendees considered how to discuss and apply DEI in our everyday work lives, and how we could all commit to the principles set forward in kyu’s DEI declaration: kindness, vulnerability, transparency, and accountability.
In the closing session, attendees agreed that to keep making progress, it’s important to recognize the progress we’ve made so far, acknowledge the challenges that are preventing us from achieving all that we want to, and set new intentions to overcome those challenges in the coming year.
Recognizing progress in the advertising industry
The good news is the advertising and marketing industry has been gradually progressing towards a more representative workforce. According to a 2021 report from the Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM), 30.8% of employees in the industry are nonwhite, up from 28.5% the previous year.
To help improve diversity in the industry, we launched Kepler Academy, an immersive training and externship program designed to help diverse candidates land and thrive in digital marketing roles. We consider Kepler Academy one of our proudest accomplishments in working toward diversity in advertising. The program is free to all participants and is designed to address key structural barriers impacting diversity in the industry. Forty-two individuals have graduated from Kepler Academy so far, and we’re excited to expand our alumni base as our third cohort begins in March. We hope Kepler Academy and other programs like it will have a lasting impact on the diversity of the talent pipeline in marketing and advertising.
Acknowledging challenges to DEI
While industry representation for most marginalized groups has improved modestly over the past few years, this is not true for Black employees, for whom representation has stayed consistently under 6.8% since 2018. Only 5% of employees in senior level positions and only 4.6% of CMOs are Black. Despite an overall trend toward greater diversity, we are clearly still a long way from achieving Black equity as an industry.
Part of the challenge may be in scaling the kind of solutions that produce real results. At Kepler, we’ve experienced rapid growth over the past two years, doubling our workforce to over 500 employees. While we’re proud of this growth, we recognize that it poses a challenge to DEI progress—the bespoke nature of effective solutions to equity-related issues can come into conflict with the need for scalability. For this reason, it’s vital that every one of our employees feels they have a stake in the success of our DEI initiatives, and that we set actionable goals for improving diversity in our workforce.
Last year, to better tackle the challenge of Black underrepresentation in the industry, Kepler submitted a plan to earn MLT Black Equity at Work Certification and was among the first 15 companies to receive plan approval. In 2022, we will be following through on that plan to achieve certification by working towards a set of clearly-defined goals.
As individuals, we can set personal intentions to model inclusive language, speak up when we witness biased behavior or to actively champion DEI initiatives in our workplaces. Organizations, on the other hand, must enact systemic change at scale. That may mean overhauling hiring practices and performance reviews to eliminate bias, training employees in inclusive workplace behavior or other systemic solutions.
As part of our MLT Black Equity at Work certification plan, our goals for the coming year include mandatory inclusive leadership training for senior employees, gathering and reporting representation and compensation data, finding a DEI partner to improve Black representation in our hiring pipeline, making an annual donation to a Black equity organization, and increasing our investment in programmatic media from Black-owned publishers.
We also plan to continue the DEI conversation within Kepler and with our colleagues at kyu, looking for new ways to create a more inclusive workplace for all.
“We took away a great deal from our Kin event,” said Justin Roberts, Director of Kepler’s DEI Center of Excellence. “We learned about the need for more intentional engagement with non-U.S. based kyu team members, the desire from our people to see tangible progress against diversity goals, and the joy gained from the experience itself.”
“The candor attendees brought to those discussions helped give way to feedback, which we intend to act on both at Kepler and across other kyu organizations in the year to come.”
Kepler is also addressing the barriers of awareness, access, opportunity and hands-on experience in its Kepler Academy program, designed to help diverse candidates land and thrive in digital marketing roles.