Tell us about yourself. Who or what inspired you to get into advertising and marketing communications?
Hola! My name is Kyla Jones, I am a Sr. Experience Strategist at RAPP, as well as one of our US Co-Leads of Diversity and Inclusion. Outside of the 9 to 5, I serve as an Empowerment Specialist, creating and leading transformative experiences for companies, colleges/universities and community partners via The Miss. Jones Xperience®
Oprah and Spike Lee actually inspired me to pursue a major and job in the communication space. At a young age, I witnessed how transformative the tool of communication can be – whether it be creating a safe space for people to be vulnerable enough to share their experiences or creating movies on your own dime just to share different perspectives.
Even in elementary school, I knew I wanted to talk, create and bring different perspectives to the forefront. I just didn’t know, at the time, that it would be in the advertising / marketing industry, specifically.
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?
We’ve made great strides, but there’s always more work to be done. We’ve seen progress, as both brands and companies extend the diversity initiatives and representation beyond race, creed, and gender – to now begin including more unique experiences, backgrounds and perspectives (socioeconomic status, sexuality, collaboration style).
Yet, we still see brands occasionally misstep, i.e. Kim Kardashian with “Kimono” and Shea Moisture with the #AllHairMatters backlash. The difference between the state of diversity 20 years ago and now is: brands are actually apologizing for their “blind spots,” and are willing to go back to the drawing board, to resolve the gaps consumers have identified.
It’s becoming a necessary part of our diversity dialogue to be accountable to our own missteps. But, more importantly, all brands and organizations should be focusing on creating a safe space to hear from others, learn from the outcome and grow from it.
‘Diversity’ is a broad term; is there a disconnect between what companies and individuals consider diversity?
Diversity is such a broad, fluid term; it’s an open box of possibilities. The more we grow as a human race, the more diversity we will continue to see in our world. Yet, there is still a disconnect between what companies and individuals consider as the true definition of diversity.
The reality is, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives are still in the infancy stages of development. Some companies still operate with the mindset that “diversity” and “inclusion” are interchangeable when, in fact, they are not. Diversity is the group, inclusion is in the action. Inclusion is what makes people feel welcome and safe to express their whole selves and contribute freely.
That is why at RAPP we have implemented a Diversity and Inclusion committee called “The Neighborhood” that focuses on bringing awareness and inclusivity to our employees. The committee is responsible for bringing awareness to different causes as well as driving inclusivity amongst our employees through such things as fireside chats, communication pieces, and panel discussions.
In the 2019 State of Diversity & Inclusion report, it is reported that most companies agree that D&I increases workforce production and innovation, but only 1 in 5 companies actually excel in D&I. Furthermore, the report shares how most companies do not require any specific D&I training, for the general workforce, nor top leadership. I’ve experienced this firsthand, where I’ve been hired by companies for my “diverse” production and innovation, but they did not have the environment nor leadership to sustain it.
We have to examine our roots: As a nation, we moved from Affirmative Action, during the Civil Rights era – which intentionally focused on opening up the door to underrepresented demographics (minorities, women, veterans, persons with disabilities) – to companies in the 1980s/1990s creating diversity education and training programs, as a reaction to the civil rights cases that were starting to rise up.
Here we are now, in 2020, still trying to settle our roots, while also attempting to “adult” through what Diversity and Inclusion should really mean… 60 years later.
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?
The most effective solution I’ve seen is D&I committees / programs working together, with HR. Most companies typically allow D&I committees to operate as an ERG, but often without the guidance of HR or top-level leadership involvement. This is where I’ve seen many initiatives fall short, because it becomes more of “culture club” or passion project, versus a designated committee, focused on implementing change in the corporate culture and structural leadership.
But, when D&I committees work closely with HR, and are held accountable, this is where the real change begins. This is strongly driven by now having several tiers within a corporation working together toward a common goal. That’s true Diversity and Inclusion!
The people in the workforce should not have the sole responsibility of driving Diversity and Inclusion in the company. There needs to be designated leaders, executive sponsors and advocates supporting the cause, helping to open up doors to increase the conversation and creating an annual budget that supports inclusive engagement. And this is why we have seen a rise in more D&I focused positions, but even more importantly – bringing EQUITY into the conversation of Diversity & Inclusion.
Window dressing will get diverse talent in the door, but a true focus on D&I and creating those safe spaces – like a designated spot for new mothers to breastfeed during work or empowering sexuality to be expressed, and not masked, or open work spaces for people who don’t want to be tied to a desk all day – those policies and engagement elements is what can convince diverse talent to stay and produce more.
5) Within your agency what’s being done to increase/maintain the diversity of talent?
At RAPP, The Neighborhood works closely with HR across all of our offices. Perri Grinberg, our US VP of HR, and Leigh Ober, our Global Chief People Officer, have been instrumental in giving us space to create opportunities to celebrate fierce individuality, while also creating different engagement elements that foster greater inclusion, open dialogues and help to nurture diverse talent.
RAPP stands on inviting employees to fully embrace their individuality and bringing those unique characteristics / perspectives to the work we do. This is the foundation of how we are able to create fearless work. Outside of client work, we understand that the environments we work in need to encourage and sustain that. The culture at RAPP is supported by policies that encourage individuality, courageous communication, work-life balance, and overall wellness.
One of the initiatives I’ve been most proud of integrating into the fabric of RAPP, is creating a National Event & Engagement strategy. This strategy serves to create equitable opportunities for people to learn more about Diversity & Inclusion, and expose employees to new perspectives / conversations in this space. Last year, several RAPP employees were able to participate in AdColor, 3% Conference and Out&Equal. The inspiration and action that came back from this opportunity created a ripple effect in the workplace and client work.
And it doesn’t stop there; the Neighborhood creates signature email doodles and shares educational pieces to highlight different causes and cultures. Immediate upcoming events include featuring our leadership sharing experiences and points of view through a Black History Month Roundtable and an International Women’s Day panel that continue to drive the discussion around understanding each individual’s experiences and how everyone can take actionable steps to continue to support each other.
What I love most about RAPP is the heartbeat of this agency. It’s a community where people feel appreciated, feel comfortable sharing who they are, unapologetically, and are encouraged to bring unique perspectives to the table. I’ve enjoyed being able to interact with the diverse cultures across the different offices. RAPP New York is different from RAPP LA, which is different from RAPP Dallas – and rightfully so, because the people are different!
But one thing always remains consistent, from office to office, RAPP cares. We care about you, we care about your family, we accept you as you are, and we encourage you to bring your whole self to work. This is how we’ve been able to truly increase and maintain diverse talent.
Looking to the client side, are there any brands you think should be commended for their efforts?
On the client side, the work that is being done on PNC Bank is the definition of fearless. The PNC Grow Up Great® social media campaign is the perfect example of how when you bring fierce individuals together, especially on a cause such as early childhood education, what intentional awesomeness can be created and supported by the client.
Outside of client work, The Go Back to Africa campaign was truly revolutionary. Turning the negative connotation around the racial slur, “Go back to Africa,” into something so beautiful, empowering and legacy driven. It created an entire platform and community, while positively reframing people’s mindsets towards the continent and conversation.
This is why it’s necessary to have unique perspectives in the room to help reframe mindsets, but also create an inclusive environment for clients to feel safe operating outside of their comfort zones.
Is there something that gives you hope that the advertising industry is on the right track to a more inclusive future?
The conversations around the Gen Z generation are already taking place in this industry, which lets me know that we are thinking ahead, about how to create an environment for the most diverse generation to come.
That next generation is a game changer. They are natural disruptors, innovators and want the truth. There is no window dressing for this generation: they have seen and heard it all, and feel empowered to challenge any alternative facts with a quick Google check.
I want my bi-racial nieces to feel comfortable coming to work as they authentically are. And not having to figure out where they belong or fit in. I want my mentees to have a professional trajectory that includes executive leadership, because there are women and men of color, already in their organizations leading those roles. I want my children to not have to worry about being the token in the room, because when they look around – they are seated at a table fully reflective of the world around them.
This next generation is not waiting for change, they are the change. And this industry already recognizes that. So much so, that RAPP is already having the necessary conversations on how to create this pipeline and create engagement opportunities to grow and sustain the next generation of diverse leaders.