We spoke with O'Loughlin about how the agency progessed from awareness to making lasting change.
Tell us about your role and your approach to improving diversity and inclusion at RAPP.
It’s hard to sum up a lead diversity role in just a few sentences – but it’s truly all-encompassing. I believe, when the job is done right, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion should not only touch, but inform, every aspect of the business. From the vendors that we choose, to the briefs we write, to the clients we partner with – and, of course, the work we put out into the world – it’s critical now, more than ever, that our products and ways of working reflect the people and communities we’re serving and are surrounded by.
Similarly, improving DE&I isn’t a linear pathway or single answer – there are so many components to the practice. Talent, ways of working, agency vision: they’ve all got to come together and work toward creating the most equitable and inclusive environment possible for our people and our output. At RAPP, we’ve laid the “awareness” foundation and I think if we can continue to tackle addressing talent balance and diversity amongst our people, we’ll be on our way. But there’s no quick-fix and no one’s got it fully right, yet. We’re committed to continue working to be better.
When collaborating with a new client, how are you evaluating whether a company shares the same values of diversity and inclusivity?
To be honest, we haven’t fully fleshed out a formula or “litmus test” if you will, just yet – and that’s something I’m working on throughout the second half of this year, in close partnership with our New Business leads across our US and UK markets. That said, I do think it will be a critical part of our business model, as brands are being held to an ever-higher standard by consumers. They’ve got to say what they mean, mean what they said, and do it all inclusively and equitably. Agencies inform a lot of what brands contribute to culture, so it’s imperative that we’re partnering with organizations whose values align with ours.
Can you elaborate on The Five C’s Framework (connection, control, choice, conviction, and community) mentioned in the DE&I whitepaper?
Utilizing these five categorizations, RAPP has developed a process through which we evaluate, and “score” potential new clients. This framework helps us match with clients against several factors that fall within each of those five pillars – and the more we’re aligned with a client against those pillars, the higher likelihood for a successful match. It would be my ultimate goal to infuse DE&I considerations into this framework, so that DE&I is a consistent touchpoint throughout our new business process and not an afterthought or additional step.
What are some steps companies can take to avoid appearing as though they are pandering rather than authentically improving their inclusivity?
I think when leadership takes time to actually listen to what employees want, and then puts in place programming, activations or processes that reflect what they heard – this goes a long way with employees. A lot of organizations push content and programming out to their people because they think they’re “supposed to” and it becomes a lot of box-checking.
On a separate, but related, note, I think, moving into next year and beyond, organizations are going to have to determine how they can best pivot out of the “awareness” phase of DE&I – events and panels and celebrations – and push toward more systemic and meaningful culture and operations changes. This is what will move the needle and create a solid foundation.
Lastly, it’s important for organizations to look inward and work to address their own issues, in-house. Predominantly white staff? Focus on hiring black and brown talent. Questions or misunderstandings around gender identity? Bring in experts to help create safe and welcoming spaces for all in your office. And so on.
In the DE&I whitepaper, you mentioned building two tools - the Diversity Audit and the Diversity Wheel. Can you tell us more about these and how they will shape DE&I processes at RAPP in the future?
These are tools that we actually use currently! The build aspect is more related to creating automated versions of them, so that the lift isn’t always so manual for our Diversity Strategists. I of course can’t reveal too much of the secret sauce, but these are tools that we arm our Diversity Strategists with, so that they’re able to have objective conversations with clients about where they can stand to improve, as it relates to DE&I considerations within their products, services or offerings – and where they’re doing well. These conversations can sometimes be a bit sticky, of course, so having methodologies in place that support and explain the observations and recommendations we’re making are helpful. They’re also ever-changing, as the discussion around all things DE&I evolves almost daily.
The ultimate goal would be to automate all tools and enable our teams to use them at will across all of our clients, rather than manually in beta right now, with a select few. Can you imagine the culture we’d help inform if all of our clients were well-versed in how to best make their brand offerings inclusive and equitable?
What are going to be some of the responsibilities for the new Diversity Strategist role? Do you feel this is something other agencies will adopt?
We’ve actually got two Diversity Strategists in play already, across our US and UK offices! They’ve each been in the role for about 6-8 months. Right now, they’re focusing on a few key clients and informing distinct projects or campaigns which have a specific DE&I focus. They each also serve as consultants for some of our other clients and teams, as needed. In addition to this brand-specific work, they each also produce thought leadership, collateral and guides to support the ever-growing practice and discipline. Currently, our US Diversity Strategist, is partnering with me on a “best practices” guide to help guide agencies for which DE&I is only a budding discipline.
I can’t say for certain if agencies will adopt this role, as it requires client partners who are willing to invest in the work and support the billable function. Thankfully, at RAPP, we’ve got clients who want to grow their DE&I acumen and create more equitable work. Down the line, I’m hopeful that agencies won’t have to adopt the role, as thinking with a diverse, equitable and inclusive lens will be second-nature for most of us.
In a year’s time, how will you measure the impact of these policies and tools you are putting into place today?
I’ve created a roadmap for 2021, and I’m working on one for 2022 – so an easy metric of success will be checking which initiatives I’ve been able to start and complete. At RAPP, we also issue quarterly DE&I check-in surveys, with both qualitative and quantitative questions, which give me a baseline on progress. Of course, additionally, we’ll be able to see how we’ve done with creating a more diverse workforce by checking the data month over month – the numbers don’t lie! And lastly, as I mentioned before, a huge part of the DE&I role, and resultant programming, revolves around talking to our people – checking in, asking questions and requesting feedback… then taking the good and the bad and using it to inform what we do next.