I haven’t thought about grades in a long time. Precisely since about May 2009. But as we approach May 2021, it’s time that everyone in the marketing and communications world start preparing to think long and hard about the grades we are about to receive.

It is unfortunate that it took the senseless loss of life (again and again and again) to spur our industry into action (yet again), but in the outpouring of 2020 workshops, panels, blogs, DEI consultants, articles, op-eds, zooms, hop-ins and slack channels, it’s easy to lose sight of the first steps.

The first two steps were articulately laid out in Six-Hundred & Rising’s open letter to the advertising industry:

Make a specific, measurable, and public commitment to improve Black representation at all levels of agency staffing, especially Senior and Leadership positions.

Track and publicly report workforce diversity data on an annual basis to create accountability for the agency and the industry.

Regardless of how your agency is defining diversity, from Black representation to BIPOC, to age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability and beyond – what’s so compelling about these first two steps is that any shop can do this. Independent or publicly owned. Whether you have a Chief Diversity Officer or are a small agency composed of all white males. Here at Padilla, we announced our #CommitToChange initiative on July 14, 2020. Which means come July 14, 2021, and for every July 14th that follows, we will have to look at the successes and failures of these numbers and ask why?

But let’s be honest with ourselves. These numbers are nothing new. We’ve known for years about this failing grade. Which reminds me of a quote from Raoul Peck’s latest film Exterminate All the Brutes:

“It’s not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.”

My hope is we can use this data to bring about the courage necessary to understand what we know and draw conclusions each year. It’s worth noting that this is not meant to diminish all the valuable work that is being done to fix the talent pipeline, educate leadership and colleagues, and uplift our communities, but reporting workforce data is the most measurable step of accountability for change in our industry. Which is why organizations like Allyship & Action and In for 13 are so important: they are both setting the vision and ensuring that vision remains in sight.

Annually tracking, reporting, and creating dialogue around these numbers is the very least we can do for our colleagues from diverse backgrounds who have found their way to—and continue to stay in—this industry despite all the obstacles they have faced and continue to face daily.

As some in our industry have noted, our grades may not be the dramatic feel-good change we are all wanting this year. However, regardless of what our respective grades are, what’s most important is what we’re going to do about it and how to support our diverse colleagues once they are hired.

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