Remembering George Floyd and our promises
On the two-year anniversary of the killing of George Floyd, WFA Global Diversity Ambassador, Belinda Smith, reflects on whether the industry is doing enough on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
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Over the past two years, George Floyd has become two words used to mark a moment for when employers, brands and corporations got serious about tackling racism. Go to any conference session on diversity and it starts with, “In the wake of George Floyd, we committed…” After George’s tragic murder by police in Minneapolis was also the moment where the WFA committed to benchmarking where our industry stands on diversity and inclusion and being a catalyst to push us forward. As the date of his murder draws near, I wanted to revisit some of what we saw in our first global benchmarking exercise.
Earlier this week, I typed “death of George Floyd” into the search bar on my phone to find the date that would mark two years. I search his name once a year – always afraid of what I will see in the results. This year, something different happened. The search didn’t come up in the auto suggestions. I got all the way to “death of George Floy” before his name appeared as a suggestion and the first suggested search was “George Floyd COVID 19 death”. Out of morbid curiosity I clicked on the suggestion and was met with a slew of headlines that told me George Floyd died of COVID-19.
This experience reminded me of a question I was asked in almost every interview in 2020: “Do you think the focus on DEI is a passing trend? How long will people care?” I found it so morbid to ask that question to a Black woman as a global swell of protests decrying the murder of black people reached a fever pitch. The question also sounded like, “How long do we have to cover this story before we can move on?” According to my search engine, the answer was, “Two years. Then we can rewrite the story and carry on.”
There’s a funny thing happening in our industry. Companies and execs are quietly abandoning their previous vows of “solidarity” with the Black community, opting instead to sell weird Juneteenth merchandise. Executive teams have decided to “focus” on Mental Health Awareness month instead of acknowledging Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Companies are changing their logos to resemble the Ukrainian flag, attacking those who have pointed out that, in their darkest hour and greatest time of need, Ukrainians were only allowing whites to flee the country – barring Blacks and students of African descent from traveling to safety with everyone else.
That’s the normal part; the funny thing is, in our industry, a piece of capitalism is working exactly the way it’s described in school. People are “voting with their feet”. Our best talent are done asking us to do better, they are simply leaving.
In the WFA Global DEI Census of summer 2021, one in seven respondents affirmed that they would consider leaving their company and the marketing industry due to lack of diversity and inclusion. And not long after, we saw the ‘Great Resignation’ rip through brands and agencies worldwide. And this isn’t just about Black talent, which the industry is adept at disregarding. Here, “diversity” and “inclusion” is broader than many think.
The most commonly-reported forms of discrimination were on the basis of age and family status. That is, those with family caregiving duties felt minimized and held back in their careers. Even gender equality, which we have been championing for decades, is still out of reach. Women report worse lived experiences in this industry than men and still suffer from a large pay gap – even at the C-Suite levels. And yes, we all know that, from a representation standpoint, most organizations are overwhelmingly white and do not reflect what our global, or even local, populations look like.
However, many have stopped asking companies to do what they pledged to do. They are simply leaving. So, as we look at the second year past the murder of George Floyd and our resulting promises as an industry, we can predictably say we haven’t done enough, and we haven’t made enough progress. What’s different now is that people are no longer waiting for us to get it right. They are leaving their companies, leaving high-pay jobs, leaving a fun industry with lots of reward and acclaim, and choosing spaces that are making progress. And as we look at country government censuses, we can easily see that, as the world becomes even more diverse, our industry is in great danger of collapse, or worse – irrelevancy. Going into year two of the census – to happen in early 2023 – the WFA along with our DEI taskforce will be working diligently to help our members and our industry understand how to achieve tangible progress now. All of our livelihoods depend on it.