Champion The Culture: Wavemaker's Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion

We have transcended celebrating diversity as merely a one-off moment in time to foster an ongoing commitment that’s continuing to create a legacy of building diverse community.

Porscha Scott
Associate Director, Marketing & Events Wavemaker
 

Ildi Conrad
Senior Partner, Director, Learning & Engagement Wavemaker

 

Tell us about yourself. Who or what inspired you to get into advertising and marketing communications?  

Porscha: It was quite serendipitous, though I do believe my passion for people and love of storytelling inadvertently led me here. I worked at CBS News Radio while studying and then joined Katz Media Group as a research analyst while completing my masters. I spent the following decade working in research and consumer insights roles at various companies before joining Wavemaker to focus on client research & brand strategy initiatives for Tiffany & Co. After three years, I was eager to try a new challenge and worked with Wavemaker’s people and culture group to transfer to marketing and events as Associate Director, Marketing & Events. This is where I discovered my true passion was around event creation and planning.

 

What is your opinion on the current state of diversity in the industry? Have you seen a significant change since the start of your career?

Porscha: I’ve been a huge supporter of my company’s diversity and inclusion leaders because I see Wavemaker’s initiatives are challenging the status quo and truly making a difference. But when I look more broadly across the advertising industry, I think we should be much further along than we are when it comes to diversity. Yes, many have made progress, but the reality is that the industry is still trying to get the basics right on how we deliver on diversity. We need to deliver beyond new hires, inherent attributes to acquired ones, and against diversity metrics that we can consistently measure. Since the start of my career, the most significant change I’ve seen has been our industry wide call to action which has birthed D&I advocacy platforms such as Ad Color, Out in Tech and my personal favorite, RQTEKT, a Wavemaker event series that builds community through celebrating diversity and inclusion through elevated experiences. I’m proud to work for an agency that has put a stake in the ground to not only make its employee base as diverse as the cities we work in, but also has one that has a big focus on inclusion so that everyone can freely bring their whole selves to work. The effort has paid off in spades for Wavemaker. Our culture here is stronger than ever, and we have won a number of prestigious D&I awards as a result – from the 2019 American Advertising Federation’s Mosaic Award to being named to AdAge’s Best Places to Work list two years running for 2019 and 2020 for our hard work in this space. I feel my agency is on an excellent track to continue moving diversity and inclusion forward in a positive way but overall, there’s much more for us as a collective industry to do.

 

‘Diversity’ is a broad term; is there a disconnect between what companies and individuals consider diversity?

Ildi: Yes, I think there is a disconnect. When most companies talk about diversity, it’s usually related to broad, visible traits like gender and race/ethnicity. An individual person’s perspective is far more complex and unique to their own experiences. It’s a tricky gap to close because not everyone wants “the company” to shine a spotlight on their personal invisible differences (nor do I think we should). At Wavemaker, we are starting to try to balance this by making our programs and policies as inclusive as possible, with the hope that everyone can see how it could be relevant to their specific situation, regardless of what that reality may be.

 

Over the years there’s been a rise of roles focused on Diversity & Inclusion, introduction of quotas, and other possible solutions. What have you seen to be the most effective and where have you seen these initiatives fall short?

Ildi: We see the most success with D&I initiatives that are on-going and embedded into our other programs and talent development practices – it makes it a part of our culture and how we do things vs a stand-along initiative. We invest a lot of time and resources to make sure that individuals feel a sense of belonging and are comfortable sharing their perspectives. Participation in almost all our learning programs is done by self-nomination, to ensure everyone has access and opportunity to participate.  Our RQTEKT events are a notable example of how people can actively contribute to our culture. RQTEKT gives people a fun and experiential way to share their culture and traditions and learn about others. We try to make them both inspirational and educational to maximize participation. And accountability is key – everyone on our US leadership team has specific goals related to diversity and inclusion as part of their performance goals. Where we still struggle to affect change is at more senior levels of the organization, where past industry and/or category experience is still considered a job requirement.

Porscha: I’ve seen very effective solutions come through as grassroot initiatives pioneered by and for employees, such as employee resource groups. We launched Wavemaker’s RQTEKT series in 2017, and over the past four years we have transcended celebrating diversity as merely a one-off moment in time to foster an ongoing commitment that’s continuing to create a legacy of building diverse community.

 

Is there something that gives you hope that the advertising industry is on the right track to a more inclusive future? 

Ildi: Yes. In looking at the industry now compared to when I started in 1995, I’m encouraged that the industry is trying to establish more inclusive and equitable behavioral “norms” and is looking more closely at the structures, policies and practices to make them equitable and inclusive. At Wavemaker, our people give me hope, especially our more junior employees. We have so many people in the first couple years of their careers who regularly volunteer their time – above and beyond their client work – to champion the culture we have within our walls. And they are brave enough to productively challenge the status quo and propel us forward. 

 

Within your agency what’s being done to increase/maintain the diversity of talent? 

Ildi: We look at the employee experience holistically and actively work to create an environment where everyone feels valued for their unique perspectives and contributions.  Many of our learning programs – from communications to leadership – focus on the behaviors that help make others feel included, with a goal of improving overall performance. We also look at our talent development processes and work to make sure they are as equitable and unbiased as possible. On the recruitment side, we are constantly looking for ways to broaden our recruiting reach. We’ve been a partner with the 4A’s Multi-Cultural Advertising Intern Program, using MAIP almost exclusively to source many of our interns. We use interview panels for our Associate (entry level) roles, so candidates are assessed by multiple people to help mitigate individual biases. While metrics are just one quantifiable way to measure D&I progress, reviewing our numbers is a key way that we can watch our progress toward D&I goals.