Making Strides, But Still Falling Short: Kendra Jones

It’s a journey that will take time and people must be made uncomfortable if we have any hope of killing bias at its root.

Critical Mass
Calgary, Canada
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Kendra Jones
Associate Creative Director Critical Mass

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

I started out at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in Dramatic Writing, intent on becoming a screenwriter. My career in advertising came about rather spontaneously. I was a receptionist/personal assistant to a “Mad Men” era copywriter/partner at a small marketing firm in New York. He took me under his wing one day, fed me assignments, and the next thing you know I went from being a receptionist writing radio ads for the Daily News to an ACD in Los Angeles working for Critical Mass. Time flies! 


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?

I believe that the industry is more self-aware and self-scrutinizing than it ever has been about its systemic problems with inequality and bias. However, we have a long way to go. While I have personally seen more young people of color find their way into the industry than ever before, I am still only an ACD and have never even met another black female ACD or CD or ECD. We are making strides in diversity, but we are still falling far short at inclusion. We are still failing to recognize bias in it’s rawest form, the kind that hits us day to day, in mostly small ways that ultimately add up during a person’s career. I feel I am still struggling against the same types of bias that I hear executives these days claim they seek to eradicate. It’s a journey that will take time and people must be uncomfortable if we have any hope of killing bias at its root. 


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

Frankly, yes. When I look at most agency’s group of creatives, I do not see many brown faces. In fact, you often see none at all when looking at the executive team on an agency website—the people who get headshots on the “about us” section. I still do not see many black or brown or non-white faces very often, if at all. Hiring a “diverse” roster of talent is not enough. Nurturing that talent past the mid level all the way to the executive suite, listening to that talent when it tells you that the status quo (often disguised as “professionalism” by a biased system) does not work for them, and actively seeking to give that talent the tools they need to succced (tools that will not and cannot be the same tools we’ve devoted to maintain a sea of sameness) – that is the mission. We have not succeeded yet.   


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?

I am starting to see improvement in willingness to install these roles and programs, but companies often struggle to implement them beyond a high policy level. Right now, most of the programming is voluntary and not led by experts. Maybe that should change. 


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

Critical Mass has been very hands on in trying to find solutions for diversifying talent – even taking steps to train us on bias in the interview and screening process, etc. Our D&I Board’s focus is on introducing programming that helps maintain diverse talent, and I’m excited for 2020. 


Looking to the client side, are there any brands you think should be commended for their efforts?

No brand’s messaging or internal changes have stood out to me more than Procter & Gamble and Teen Vogue. 


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

That there are many more people behind the scenes now striving for the same future that I hope for. Even up until a just a few years ago, I felt very alone in this industry, and that feeling has changed. Now I am more determined than ever, and it’s the support that I’ve found at agencies like Critical Mass that keeps it fueled and focused on the future.