With the election in full swing, I expect that, like me, you’ve watched your Twitter feed become a steady stream of: “He said what?” Shock and awe reactions to absurd, blanket statements and misguided opinions causing social media to light up. While it can be an adrenaline rush to watch a tweet-storm effort to beat back stupidity—the so-called “self-cleaning oven” of social—it can also be very dangerous and result in half-baked perspectives that confirm one’s own biases.
When I see this phenomenon happening in a way that impacts digital media, in my role as the leader of the only association exclusively focused on the creators of digital content, I feel compelled to speak out. It’s now been two weeks since a top advertising executive sent a terrible message to the media industry on gender diversity declaring, “the [expletive] debate is all over.” He went on to suggest the lack of women in leadership roles was not a problem, pointing to other industries as much worse.
While I might like to believe it’s true, I can’t emphasize enough how fundamentally flawed this perspective is. I was pleased to see that his bosses appear to have come to the same conclusion as they quickly and decisively showed him the door. Simply waiting to see how the industry reacts would be a testament to an organization that doesn’t practice what it preaches.
Where does this leave us? As an industry, we must accept the reality that this debate will never be over; gender equality, like all issues of diversity, must be a constant consideration as we ask ourselves: Are we doing enough? What are we missing? Who is being overlooked? There will be no bombastic finish line celebration. To declare victory, as this chief executive did, is not only naïve but a major setback. Rather, let’s celebrate each small victory and continue to set the bar ever-higher
As the media industry, this realization is paramount. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, famously stated at Davos earlier this year that “diversity is the engine of invention. It generates creativity that enriches the world.” I completely agree with this statement. Understanding and respecting your audiences in a fast changing world happens only by being inclusive and inspiring all viewpoints. Diversity isn’t simply a matter of what boxes you check.
As a trade association, we focus our energy on advancing the future of trusted content. We believe that this only happens through promoting diversity in leadership and the types of companies we represent. To that end, just two years ago, we put in a motion a renewed effort that has truly been an engine of growth. We recently noted at an industry event that 15 of our last 30 new board members have been female. I’m incredibly thrilled by this as DCN doesn’t get to choose these member representatives. This means that our member companies are putting their top female executives in positions of leadership and influence.
Additionally, since I came aboard two years ago as a certifiably white male, we’ve added four strong female media leaders to our Executive Committee including our Co-Chair Christy Tanner at CBS. Indeed, leadership starts at the top. That being said, we’re merely a trade association; a representative proxy for our membership. And, to be honest we see significant challenges, which will never completely go away.
What can we do? Well, in many ways, we act as a thought leadership center for our members, a process that relies on open and candid discussion. Our team programs member day events with a keen eye on diversity. I’m thrilled to see our (mostly-female) leadership always take this into consideration, while recognizing we must do more. We regularly include topics on our member day agendas that focus on delivering on this challenge, particularly in areas where there is too often underrepresentation. We also work hard to promote diversity in our participation in industry events such as our Advertising Week panel “Who’s winning at sports content,” which featured some of the brightest people in the business. Oh yes, all women and diverse in business and perspective.
As a nation, we’re celebrating the first nomination of a woman for the office of President by a major political party. We can certainly be pleased with this milestone, while simultaneously being embarrassed that it took this long. And we need to take an honest look at decisions made even as we celebrate this momentous occurrence such as the choice made by several major newspapers to mark the momentous occasion with front page photos of her husband, not the person who might be our first female president.
My ask of the industry is truth and candor. Challenge us wherever this an opportunity to do more. I know that despite the modest progress we’ve seen at DCN on gender diversity, there is significant work to be done on ethnic and racial diversity. Awareness and self-awareness are key to continued progress. Let’s have a bit of humility to not try to be the executive celebrating alone at a fictional finish line. And by all means, we need to clearly see both the challenges and opportunities in the road ahead.