It’s no secret that marketing organisations and creative agencies with diverse workforces enjoy better business performance, innovation, creativity, and decreased attrition and related hiring costs. There are many pieces of research that support this.

Sadly, in a post Covid world, the advertising community has taken a step back. Even in the current job market, many marketers of colour are voluntarily leaving their jobs.

Joanna Jenkins, consultant for DEI consultancy Cardinal Change  participated in Adcolor’s 2022 State of the Workplace study and said that “long-standing issues combined with watershed events of 2020 and public commitments to progress have ignited an unwavering desire for actionable results among employees and audiences within the marketing industry ecosystem.”

More specifically, the Adcolor’s 2022 State of the Workplace Study looks at three major reasons for the growing DEI retention problem. One major factor that leads to attrition among marketers from underrepresented communities is “subjectivity and ambiguity.”
Research shows that talent of colour is being hired in DEI leadership positions without clear business goals and KPIs. Their roles and responsibilities—and their opportunities for advancement—are too vague. 

In France, they have a term called “le racisme positif” which translates to “positive racism”. As with many French terms, this one possesses an air of sarcasm. In this case of vague responsibilities, “positive racism” is at play. What it connotes is that the novelty of diversity wears off because it is false; a talent of colour is hired because a company needs to meet a quota. The “positive” part for the talent is that they got hired. The irony comes in when the talent struggles to perform because the set of responsibilities are not clear and no matter how well they work, the direction is blurrier than that of their white counterparts. Racism is still very much at play, despite being hired in the first place. Another term for this is “Colourblind Racism”. You know those people who claim they’re so forward-thinking they simply “don’t see colour” and in not seeing they fail to make the adjustments necessary in order for their brothers and sisters of colour to make progress. 

As you can imagine, this leaves many managers of colour feeling the need to leave these vague, foggy positions. More than half of marketers (52%) have changed career direction or industry due to issues of mobility and/or career growth opportunities, according to a 2021 study with the Harris Poll and Hue, a culture and community platform with a mission to amplify BIPOC voices and pave paths.

A second factor contributing to why marketers of colour are quitting their jobs is unaddressed emotional burdens. Earlier this year, Hue released its State of Inequity 2023 report. Among the findings: BIPOC talent is twice as likely to consider leaving their employers because of an emotional burden related to their race at work. Indigenous Americans are three times as likely.

In this case employers and co-workers must ask whether they demonstrate understanding for what the teams are going through. If not, there is a disconnect. Furthermore, remote and hybrid work made meaningful personal interaction difficult, impacting ERG groups and DEI programs broadly. And many companies have not come up with alternatives to connecting employees and giving them a meaningful voice in company initiatives.

A third factor contributing to the decline of talent of colour in marketing roles is the amount of over-mentoring and under-sponsoring. Where mentorship means helping a protégé, sponsorship means spending one’s social capital and using one’s influence to advocate for a protégé. 

Sponsorship is a systemic action companies can take to elevate marketers of colour, yet many don’t. Most historically excluded individuals do not have sponsors and are unlikely to acquire one in the future. A Harvard Business Review study of sponsorship among Black women found that Black women had a harder time obtaining and retaining sponsorship compared to their white, male counterparts. Shocker… 

Moving forward, the labour market’s advocacy for supporting DEI initiatives is not one that will go away anytime soon, as today’s employees not only support it—they require it. As with most socio-politics in the workplace, progress must, unfortunately, be made with patience. In the Indeed and Glassdoor Workplace Trends 2023 study, 72% of workers ages 18-34 said they would consider turning down a job offer or leaving a company if they did not think that their manager supported DEI initiatives.

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