August 18, 2008
Diversity: A natural evolution
Today, we kneel to the Internet and the opportunities it has made possible. The Internet has opened the door to a growing global client base and it is an olio of cultures, colors, religions and races. Back home, the pharma industry has seen the light. As international business and the bottom line have grown, we've responded by hiring people. That's the good news. The better news is that we've evolved in our hiring practices. More agencies are embracing diversity, not only to reflect what we find abroad, but because it is wonderfully adaptive and productive. It goes beyond survival (sorry, Darwin). It's about prevailing—and not being eaten alive by the competition.
Thank goodness our industry is no longer a white, male-dominated field. We've come a long way from the Madison Avenue Mad Men era seen on TV, where the positions most women occupied were relegated to administrative and an occasional grunt of, “Yes, sir,” and “as you wish, sir.” We only need to look around to see the changes. Strong women are spearheading companies, leading teams and launching global brands.
Individuals from different cultures, such as legendary Fred Hassan of Schering-Plough, are demonstrating far more than just their strategic skills. They're applying their rich cultural backgrounds to lead companies boldly and brightly with flair and savoir-faire not possible before.
And here's an evolutionary bonus: Today, savvy agencies have discovered that diversity can also boost creativity and innovation. The more minds, perspectives and cultural influences in an agency, the more effective and universally applicable their creative product. And the better it is, too. In my agency alone, people of varied sexes, ages and colors collaborate daily. When navigating clients' brands through challenging waters, every idea is heard and considered. We pull through waters as a team and the result is that better ideas emerge when the brainstorming is over. And they've got the legs and lungs to go the distance.
It's not enough to talk a good diversity game. In today's world, companies need to do more than give lip service to a diverse work force. Diversity requires commitment not just from top management, but from all levels. Human resources, for example, must learn to expand its horizon and seek out the best talent available—regardless of color, sex or background. Ignoring ethnicity, gender or disability not only addresses the skills shortage agencies are experiencing now, but it also increases morale, productivity and retention. Once they're part of the team, companies should establish a mentorship program to give these young managers the guidance they need and prepare them for their role as tomorrow's leaders. Encouraging talent to be active in professional associations also increases their visibility. Any company can hire “chair men” to sit around a boardroom wielding opinions. But it's far better to provide seats for a diverse group of contributors who can spark creativity.
Those agencies that have not yet expanded their cultural horizons and roles should be wary of extinction. We offer the following advice: “Don't kneel to change. Be evolved. Stand up for something that makes everything possible…diversity.”
Ahnal Purohit, PhD, is president and CEO, at Donahoe Purohit Miller