Although the events of the last year have put racial justice, diversity, and equity firmly in the spotlight, the wheels of change are still turning slowly in the advertising and publishing industry. That’s the view of Nicole Uvieghara, senior media planner at Taboola:
“I’m optimistic because the conversation can no longer be avoided, but I’m still a bit frustrated with the small, incremental changes,” she explains.
Uvieghara is a founding member of Taboola Black, Taboola’s Black employee resource group. The group provides a safe space for Taboola’s Black identifying employees to build a community and share experiences. They also run events to help broaden the conversation around diversity in the workplace.
Uvieghara believes that without robust changes, companies have to start their diversity efforts over and over again, and she, for one, is not handing out any cookies.
Looking Beyond Incremental Changes
“I am so over incremental changes,” she reiterates. “Maybe it looks good on the surface, but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. And that’s why we’re always stuck in this cycle of ‘what should we do for diversity’?
“People often think their awareness of what happened to George Floyd puts them instantly on the path of redemption, but why do Black people constantly have to endure a traumatic experience for you to wake up and say, ‘oh my God, we need to change something’?”
She says that’s a pretty low bar, and adds:
“Applauding yourself because you read a book about race is not enough. You have to do the work, you need to advocate, you need to amplify those who are underrepresented, you need to wield your power, utilize your privilege to do the work, because a lot of times the work is left on us Black professionals to do.”
Improvements in Diversity in Creative Talent
That said, Uvieghara has seen some positive change in terms of starting to see more diverse talent on the creative side.
This is essential for capturing nuances relating to gender and sexuality, ableism, and racism.
“Advertisers have made a big push to hire more creative talent because they’re aware their consumer base is diverse, and so they need to prioritize diversity in their creative and marketing approach,” she explains.
She says this has made a huge difference in terms of representing marginalized groups and capturing aspects of their experience that people who operate from a position of privilege might not necessarily understand.
Despite the presence of more diverse creative teams, however, there’s still a long way to go. “There aren’t many people in positions of power who are Black, ” Uvieghara says. “Those who are might be the only ones, and often they are put in a box in terms of expectations. And they don’t want to stray too far from what corporate America deems acceptable, which is very white adjacent.”
No Diversity Without Executive Diversity
Uvieghara says having diversity at the highest level is a necessary precursor to change. “I believe that you’re going to get change when you have more representation in leadership because it’s not just one voice advocating, it’s multiple voices and those multiple voices end up becoming the masses, where you can no longer as a corporation just ignore that issue. You have to address it.
“If you don’t have diversity on those executive levels then you really don’t have diversity, because those executives are the ones making changes on a large scale for companies, making choices about how they spend their revenue.”
Other studies confirm that the advertising and publishing industry lacks diversity in top management. Uvieghara adds: “Black people are not in those board meetings, we don’t hold those top positions and it’s not because we’re underqualified. Sometimes we’re even overqualified.”
More Than ‘Diversity Through the Door’
Uvieghara is not impressed by companies that claim they can’t find the right talent for those executive positions. She says there are plenty of qualified, maybe even overqualified, Black professionals and executives out there for those who are willing to put in the time to look.
Aside from diversifying the current leadership, Uvieghara also says there needs to be a system for nurturing in-house Black talent so that they can become future leaders.
“Black talent turnover is so high, and it’s not because of a lack of qualifications; it’s because of a lack of upward mobility and a lack of representation. Companies need to understand that it’s not just about getting diversity in the door. They also need to look inward and pay attention to professional development.”
Greater Accountability and Representation Needed
Uvieghara would like to see companies stop performative activism – like the ‘bare minimum’ of professing support for the Black Lives Matter movement – and actually hold themselves accountable for their diversity goals.
Good intentions might be laudable, she comments, but they don’t really address core issues, such as what the work culture is like for people of color. She says most Black people in the workplace try their best to deal with the systemic problems they face every day.
“I guarantee you a lot of Black people and people of color don’t feel included, because there’s no representation in leadership, but also the culture isn’t truly inclusive for Black people,” she explains.
She adds that Black people learn to navigate predominantly white spaces from their childhood, but it doesn’t work the other way round.
Most white colleagues don’t even realize the constant accommodation that goes on, and never take the time to educate themselves about the different cultures of Black people and people of color.
Smoothing the Way for New Black Colleagues
One issue that’s important to Uvieghara as a Black professional is paving the way for those who come after her.
“As a Black person in the workplace, there’s always a huge responsibility. Even though our stories are so different, you know that it was hard for them to get to where they are,” she says.
“There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that you’re just not aware of unless you are a Black person. I don’t want others after me to simply go through what I went through. I want them to come in and be their authentic selves and not have to code-switch and not have to deal with the microaggressions.
“That’s not going to happen overnight, but I want to start those changes so it shifts the narrative, because no one should come to work and feel othered, marginalized. It’s unacceptable.”
Is Your Work Culture Truly Inclusive? Probably Not
Returning to the question of diversity in advertising, Uvieghara says: “I don’t know why some advertisers are still having a hard time understanding why this is essential. We live in a capitalist society, so I would assume you would focus on making sure that you are representing your global audience.”
She points out that diversity of thought is a must in the creative industries.
“There are things one person will see that I don’t see. No one knows everything, and not everybody has the same experiences. If an organization has more diversity of thought and diverse talent, then it increases revenue.”
Uvieghara adds: “Money shouldn’t be the main driver for you to have diversity. There’s also the question of humanity.”
She concludes that, despite the progress made so far, there’s still a long way to go for many companies in the industry:
“Diversity creates a better work culture. You can’t really talk about your work culture being this amazing utopia for people when it’s not diverse. If you don’t have that, then I really don’t want to hear about your work culture, because I know that work culture does not include me.”
In honor of Black History Month in the US, Taboola Black is hosting panel webinar, The Need for Diverse Advertising: Why the Black Experience Matters with Taylor Kobryn, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leader at Google, Akama Davies, Director, Global Solutions & Innovation at Xaxis, and Ty Heath, Director, Market Engagement at LinkedIn. Join Us!