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Agency Diversity and Inclusion in our Time

Loren Marowski Loren MarowskiSeason 2Episode 8Aug 9, 2022

Agency Diversity and Inclusion in our Time

Introduction: Welcome to Planner Parley, a show where we come together under a flag of truce to talk about small agency planning. In a year of reckoning that truly opened our eyes to the gross inequalities and racism in our country, we wanted to take a long, hard look at the reality of it in our industry and learn what we can do about it. Alexis Agosto, director of the 4A’s Foundation MAIP Program, and Jineen Carcamo, data strategy director at Translation, and a MAIP alum in New York City join John Roberts, CSO at Truth Collective in Rochester, New York, to discuss this important and pressing issue, what we need to be doing differently and what it means for small agencies. Pull up a chair and listen in.

John Roberts: So welcome to another episode of Planner Parley. I kind of thought that a working title for this podcast was a little bit about 2020, which is weird, right? The year of clear vision that clearly wasn’t. It was the year of not just getting woke, but actually getting slapped around the face and rightfully so for us all to stand up and take notice about what can we do to be more active to correct so much in our industry about the role of diversity, equity, and inclusion and what we as small agency members and as strategists can do about it. So, Alexis, I want to start with you because obviously there’s a lot that we can learn from the 4A’s, which we’re going to dig deeper into, but can you just help us level set, what is the reality in our industry today when we talk about the notion about inequality and the lack of diversity, can you help set the standard of where are we today?

Alexis Agosto: Yeah, absolutely. So just to give you a brief kind of background, the program that I work for, I work for the 4A’s Foundation and the Multicultural Advertising Intern Program was established in 1973 for the sole purpose of being able to provide more equitability and more diverse talent with the access to get into advertising. Quite honestly, the numbers have not changed much since ’73 and we are in 2020. We are 47 years strong. So you would think that our program would no longer be needed by now, but it seems as though we’re needed more than ever. The 4A’s actually put out a survey this year as a result of the climate that we’re in, the racial reckoning that we went through and are still going through as a nation. Within the advertising industry, we wanted to really get some more concrete numbers on what exactly is happening.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and with one another. And so the 4A’s put out a anonymous survey to all of our members and nonmembers as well to try and get a sense of what are we working with right now? And quite frankly, the numbers show that we need help. In terms of the employee population by ethnic diversity, Hispanics and Latinos make up about 8.6% of the advertising industry. Black and African Americans, 5.8. others that are not identified, 4.1. Asian and Asian-Americans, 10.7. White and Caucasian, whomping 70.5. So you see the disparity, you see the lack of diversity within the industry by these numbers. And these were in 2019, these were the numbers for 2019. So it just shows that diversity, equity, and inclusion is very much needed within our industry. And we’re nowhere near where we should be.

John Roberts: And that’s something that clearly is what, we began talking about this at the very beginning that within the, as you’ve quite rightly pointed out, within the culture of today, okay, the world that we’ve lived through so far in 2020 and onwards, it’s becoming a stark reminder that we need to be much more active about whatever steps we’re taking.

Alexis Agosto: Absolutely.

John Roberts: So tell me a little bit more about MAIP.

Alexis Agosto: Oh my goodness, MAIP. It’s a program that’s near and dear to my heart honestly. I wish I knew about MAIP when I was in college. So MAIP, as I said, stands for the Multicultural Advertising Intern Program. And it started back in ’73. And you know what, when I think of 1973, what comes to mind is Mad Men. And I don’t know if you’ve watched Mad Men and I’m assuming you have, but that show really, yeah, it made me uncomfortable a little bit when I first saw it. I’m like, my goodness, the way women are treated, the way people of color are treated back in the early ’60s, the Mad Men days, my gosh, I can imagine living in those times. And so when I think of the early ’70s too, what first started as 10 black students that were a part of the first inaugural class of MAIP has now grown into 354, our largest class.

John Roberts: Fantastic.

Alexis Agosto: Yes. And it’s a nationwide program. MAIP provides a pipeline for students of color to be able to have access into the advertising and marketing industries. And so we handle all of the recruitment nationwide. We work with our agencies to make sure that they’re getting the top talent out there. MAIP first started as the, and it was known back in the ’70s as the Minority Advertising Intern Program and very much so, like I said, the purpose was to get more diverse students, but more specifically, black students because it’s the most marginalized community into the advertising industry, but we’ve now evolved to encompass all diverse people, multicultural people.

And so from inception to conclusion, we are in the nitty gritty with the students making sure that they have an interest in advertising, that they see themselves in this space. We provide them with training prior to their internships to make sure that they have a sense of what advertising is, where can they fit in? How can they bring their talent to the table? And things of that nature. And the really unique thing about the program is the 4A’s Foundation covers the travel and housing for each student. So let’s say I’m a student in New York, right? And I applied to the program, I’m make it to the final round. And I get chosen by 72andSunny in L.A., we’re paying for their flight, and travel, and housing to be able to be in L.A. for the duration of the summer and have this immersive experience within the agency.

John Roberts: Fantastic.

Alexis Agosto: Yes. It really is.

John Roberts: Fantastic.

Alexis Agosto: Like I said, I wish I knew about it when I was in college, because I would’ve applied.

John Roberts: So listen, let’s talk to one of the alumni, Jineen. Talk a little bit about the role you have now at Translation so we can understand the role you have as a strategist, but also then talk a little bit about how did MAIP help you to get to where you are today?

Jineen Carcamo: So at Translation, my role is data strategy director. And what that essentially is, and what I have in my Twitter bio is charts and butts. Because it really is a two kind of party, two thinking system where you have to marry the truth and the insights that we see in our day-to-day life, but with facts and hard cold numbers. So I work with brand strategists. I work with a team that we call context direction at the agency to distill our insights and our feelings, and our knowledge about the culture into evidence. So that’s my day-to-day. And I’ve been at Translation for about three years now. And I think what’s always driven me at that agency is the commitment to the truth, the commitment to piloting what we know happens within our cultures.

And when we say culture, we mean black culture. We mean Hispanic culture, the culture in New York, understanding all those nuances inside and out of that culture and not just in the culture is something that we feel very strongly about and we’re very devout to.

John Roberts: And it’s something that, I know you and I two were chatting about this the other the day, but it’s obviously been at the core of Translation from the very beginning when Steve Stoute founded Translation.

Jineen Carcamo: Yeah. I think Steve has, he has a book called Tanning of America. And even before when he was in the music industry and before he transitioned into marketing, he’s always had this eye for what we call seeing around corners. And he instills that from the top of his mindset to how we work day-to-day and how we deploy our work independence and is always kind of at the forefront. So making sure that we are giving, whether it’s the consumers who are participating with our campaigns, the autonomy to engage and make it their own, or whether it’s artists that we work with on the masters side, for them to own their independence, to own their masters and own their future and their careers.

John Roberts: Let me ask, because from the outside, I noticed Steve’s just written an open letter to the ANA as well about addressing diversity within the industry as a whole marketing industry. How much of that percolates through into the daily life within Translation? Obviously it’s embedded within what you do, but the activism, how important is that within Translation?

Jineen Carcamo: I think it’s very important. It’s almost table stakes, but I don’t want to discredit the effort and the foresight that goes into making that a pillar of the work that we do. I think because most of the agency has experience and lives these truths, it just becomes evident in our work. It’s always the thought process of where this lives, who experiences this ad, this campaign or our message that always unintentionally has that commitment to social justice and that commitment to radical equity and equality. So I think to that point, it’s something that I somewhat take for granted sometimes because I-

John Roberts: For sure.

Jineen Carcamo: … was in an agency that I see people that look like me, it’s not weird to have a short Latina girl leading a meeting. And that’s not the case everywhere. So I do feel very blessed that in that agency that I’ve been given the control of my career, the wings to grow, not to say that I couldn’t have achieved those things in other places, but I feel like it’s more commonplace than more of, I don’t know if the word would be like, I’m not just the minority hire or that girl, it’s that kind of is a part of my identity, but it’s not my only attribute.

John Roberts: It’s a really critical point, Jineen, because culture can be defined as the way we do things. And obviously you’re within an environment as you’ve just said yourself, where it is within everything that you do. But Alexis, we know from what you were just talking about at the beginning, this is a rarity. Translation is a rarity within the industry and something we can all learn from, but it’s something we all need to address ourselves. Alexis, how do we really understand creating stronger reflection, diversity, and celebration of that, both within the work, and also the workplace. What are some of the things that 4A’s are doing to help small agencies like mine address these issues?

Alexis Agosto: Yeah. One of the major things that the 4A’s and the 4A’s Foundation has implemented this year, we started our Vanguard Program, which is, we always hear the telltale tale from agencies, “We don’t know where the talent is. We can’t find them.” And so what the Vanguard Program does is put the onus on agencies and we’re saying, “Hey, guess what? Why don’t you look within your own organization? Because I guarantee you there’s a person of color there, more specifically a black person,” because again, black people is the most marginalized community within advertising and overall. So look within your organization. I guarantee you, you’re going to find a person that has put in amazing work, that has great potential, and you can be promoting this person.

So the Vanguard Program, what that initiative is set to do is once an agency identifies this person within their organization, they are then making the commitment to sponsor them and their development. The 4A’s Foundation, we handle, it’s a 12 month long program and we handle the development of that individual through the Vanguard Program. After the 12 months, we then look at the agency and say, “Okay, your employee has been through this intense training for 12 months. Let’s talk about you promoting them to the next level.” Because what we’re seeing is a lack of diversity, specifically within leadership roles. That’s where we can make a bigger change. Transformational leaders design their workplace culture to empower individuals to fearlessly contribute innovative ideas to achieve their business goals.

And how do we do that? We change the faces of our leadership to make sure that we’re representative of the communities and the, yeah, the community that we’re serving basically. So I think having that mindset of a shift in culture and being able to look within ourselves and be transparent with ourselves and authentic with ourselves, and say, “Hey, these are areas of improvement. And you know what, let’s talk about how we can or what we can do to make sure that we’re tackling them.” Vanguard Program is just one way. I know a lot of agencies, they have their own internal ERG groups, employee resource groups and what have you, which is a great way for them to start having those conversations. But now in 2020, we have to go past just having the conversation and actually putting into action.

So another initiative that the 4A’s and 4A’s Foundation has put forth, this year specifically was our first inaugural Equity and Inclusion Congress, where along with our partnering agencies, we came together and said, “You know what? We’ve been talking about this issue for so long, let’s put our heads together and actually put a plan in action.” So we assessed it from different levels. We’d looked at, from a recruiting perspective, what are we doing? What are the barriers? What are some things that we could be improving on? Between holding companies and independent agencies, what have been your experiences? Let’s bounce ideas off of each other. Let’s collaborate and see what we can come up with to address recruiting specifically.

Then we looked at retention, what are we doing on an organizational level to make sure that we’re retaining our employees of color? We looked at some of the initiatives that we could put forth there. What came forth from that is there’s a lot of agencies that have a great referral program where their employees will refer people to be able to take an open position. That referral program tends to lack in diversity. And so maybe reassessing your referral programs to see what exactly you’re, what we’re looking at.

John Roberts: Is that because of the societal reality of we’re closely connected with people like us in a bad way in this case, right?

Alexis Agosto: Yeah, I would say. And you know what, in full transparency, again, I think of Mad Men days when I say this, but the advertising industry was very much a frat boy kind of culture where it’s like, if you were part of the country club, if you were part of the frat, then you were in. And so we have to step away from that mindset. It’s no longer those who already have a leg in the door, we have to provide the access and opportunity for others who have equally great ideas, if not better sometimes. And yeah, so that’s what we did with the Equity and Inclusion Congress, kind of looked at all of the data, just try to make sense of it and come up with an actionable plan to lead the industry forward. This is what we’ve come up with as an industry overall.

John Roberts: So when you think about that, Alexis, as a industry wide plan, how much of that can be translated into, no pun intended, but translated into small agency? Okay? Because the reality, I run a small agency, I’m one of three strategists within the agency. And so there’s a scale and size of we’re desperately looking to make change happen, the action you talked about, but there’s a scale to what we can do. And I’m not sure if that works in our favor or against us. So how much of those actions from an industry level that you think we could apply at a small agency level?

Alexis Agosto: Yeah. So I think the great thing about the Equity and Inclusion Congress was that it included not only holding companies, but independent agencies of all sizes. So the unique thing is we were able to come together and really assess what’s happening in all of our individual spaces and how we’ve been approaching it and come together and say, “Is this the best strategy? Are we doing this in the best way?” And so I think that smaller agencies kind of get in their heads when it comes to looking for the talent, and how do we recruit them, and how do we make our smaller agency appealing? But I think the one thing that smaller agencies have to their advantage is the sense of community and the sense of cohesiveness as an organization that you have within your employees.

Sometimes the bigger the agency, things get, no pun intended, lost in translation. And so smaller agencies have that advantage where they have that familial feel, that familial culture, everyone knows each other’s name, everyone’s asking how each other’s kids are doing. And so I think smaller agencies really need to look at their disadvantages or what they’re seeing as a disadvantage and-

John Roberts: And flip them.

Alexis Agosto: … understand, yeah, it’s an advantage.

Jineen Carcamo: Yeah. I think the other piece of that too is that just because DE&I is a title, it shouldn’t just live in that one silo. Responsibility doesn’t fall to one person. And oftentimes the people of color in the room, it is something that everyone has to commit to as like an ethos, as a value, because you tend to then, everyone as to my nature, you fall into people that you gravitate towards. People that are like-minded or work the same way that you do. And you start to get into a routine or sometimes culture works at a disadvantage because everyone is the same. And I think diversity, equity, and inclusion have to take into account all the ways that we are different, not just surface level, but the myriad of beliefs, of thinking, of backgrounds and how that starts to play into our work as strategists, as our work as account people, as creatives, whatever your role is, all those different unique experiences make who you are and what you bring to the table.

John Roberts: It’s a great way of looking at, Jineen, that celebration of individuality, right? You just touched on something that I know is true from the work that we’ve been doing within our company and also thinking about the discussions I’ve had with Alexis for the 4A’s about mistakes we can all make but learn from, okay? So try and avoid. So do not appoint a person as responsible for solving all of our troubles and errors, right? Particularly someone of color, okay? Because it’s unfair and it’s wrong to actually address it that way. Jineen, what would be some other tips that you would have for strategists like you and I to start thinking about what can we do within an agency?

Jineen Carcamo: There are a lot of things that naturally strategists do. I think empathy for me has always been a big part of my personality, but I do think it’s a strength in my role as a strategist. So being able to empathize and be keen to understand. So that curiosity piece, which I also think is another pivotal tenet of being the strategist. So using those things to your advantage the same way that you would dive into a brand, the same way you would dive into an industry analysis, do that for a culture. Learn to understand not to assume is kind of my leading tip. So don’t think because you’ve read all about my culture, that you know it, because there are things that I feel and that I carry with me that you can’t understand, that you won’t understand. So let others lead where they are, where their focus and their intent is, and be open to following sometimes.

Alexis Agosto: I totally agree with you, Jineen, and you hit on a really good point when you say empathy, because I think today’s leaders must exhibit more nuanced skills and the ability to show empathy and appreciation, listening and supporting, they take on equal importance in the virtual office environment that we find ourselves in. And it’s super important when you’re talking to diverse people too. I know one of our MAIPers had expressed an experience that she had gone through within her agency where, because of religious purposes, she couldn’t partake in happy hours. And we all know advertising. We love our happy hours. So she found herself in a rock and a hard place because she’s like, “I want to be involved with my team. I want to be able to get to know them outside of work, but I can’t go to these happy hours. It’s not part of my religious beliefs and X, Y, and Z.”

And so I think being able to, as an organization, acknowledge that, empathize with it and then create a space where you can have equal inclusion all around. So that empathy piece that you talked about, Jineen, super, super important.

Jineen Carcamo: I think perspective also is a big piece.

John Roberts: Talk about perspective, Jineen. What do you mean by that?

Jineen Carcamo: We all have our own lived experiences and they make us who we are, but it’s so easy to assume that that’s the way everyone else sees it. It’s almost like a vantage point. I see everything at my height. I have no idea what it looks like for someone who’s six feet tall. I don’t know what it’s like to be in someone else’s body, but empathy helps me try to understand. So understanding that perspective is like, when you’re in the seat as a strategist, start to put yourself in different shoes, what would that feel like? What does that look like? How does your message get translated across different environments? Some people get cautious, they’re like, “I don’t want to be too PC.” But understanding like, if I say this, I assume it to mean one thing, it can mean something entirely different to someone else. And if you don’t start to explore anything outside of your own perspective, you get stuck in your own bubble.

John Roberts: So Jineen, it’s funny, it’s crippling that I love this expression. Actually, when you think about what you and Alexis were just talking about, empathy, curiosity, perspective, I feel as though there’s an argument then to say that strategists are actually fundamental to helping change the industry and what we need to do to build greater equity, to have a better understanding and celebration of diversity.

Jineen Carcamo: Absolutely. I think everyone has an equal role. I think strategists have a brilliant way and a skill to make so that you’re engaged and excited to lean in. So I think that’s the job of a strategist, to find the hooks to get everyone bought in and everyone to care. Because I do too feel like sometimes not everyone is supposed to be in, everyone would be like, “Yeah, I’m glad that we’re doing MAIP. We have an intern every summer. That’s all we need to do.” Now MAIP is more than just a summer thing. It is everything far and beyond. It’s not just the entryway, but it’s the continued fountain at which the alumni, as an alumni myself, I continue to grow and I continue to gain knowledge and checking my skills just from the people that I came into the program with, just some people I see come to the program day in and day out. It’s not just an internship. It’s so much more than that.

Alexis Agosto: It’s a movement girl.

John Roberts: Well, it’s fantastic, right? Because movements are driven by passion and belief, right?

Alexis Agosto: Yes.

John Roberts: Whereas an internship is an organizational structure in some way. Alexis, just picking up on what Jineen was talking about. When you think about it from your learning and your guidance, we were just talking about the role of strategists, but we’ve encountered, okay, particularly in our conversations of our learning this year, that leaders have to actively be open and want to be involved. Is that fair?

Alexis Agosto: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, because it starts with leadership and an organization that engages fully in the individual where innovation thrives and views, and beliefs, and values are integrated, that is the intersection of diversity, equity, and inclusion. So it really very much does start with leadership.

John Roberts: One of the things I’ve seen though this year, just adding to that is I’m convinced the majority of leaders are not against building stronger diversity, but they are perhaps scared of making mistakes, being clumsy. Okay? Offending people. Not making the right decisions. Is that fair? Have you seen that?

Alexis Agosto: I think that’s definitely a concern now because, you’re right. No one wants to offend anyone else and we’re being more sensitive with that regard, but also if we’re not comfortable with being uncomfortable and making those mistakes, how are we ever going to learn? And I think Facebook actually did it really well. They put out a campaign where they shared their numbers individually and they talked about where they’re at at the moment, and what their five-year plan is, and how they’re going to get there. So they were super authentic with it and said, “We suck at this. These are our numbers right now, and we suck and we own it. We realize that, we recognize it, and this is what we’re thinking of doing in the next five years to try and bring it to this number because this is important to us.” And so I think if the ad industry was just more authentic and more transparent with owning where we’re at, people would just respect us even more.

John Roberts: Look at me, I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing at what you’re saying, which is, we spend all of our days, Jineen, telling our clients to be more authentic and transparent.

Jineen Carcamo: But it’s their version of authentic. Yes.

John Roberts: It’s so much easier to correct other people’s problems.

Jineen Carcamo: Yeah. I think too, it’s this thing that, it’s been sticking with me. It’s easier to stand up when everyone else is already standing. It’s easy to raise your hand when everyone else already asked a question. So I think that brands and marketers, we’re in this cycle of everyone else is doing it, so we have to say something. Or now it’s a priority. And that always feels a certain type of way in my soul just because I came up through MAIP, this has been always in the forefront of my mind. It’s always a passion of mine. So I don’t want to see your black square on your Instagram ad. I don’t want to see, now we’re going to have a black lead in here and we’re going to do this and that. I want to see what happens next year. I want to see what happens the year after.

I want to see the continued commitment, the acknowledgement, the understanding that you yourself has learned to try to educate yourself and your organization. I want to see those longterm commitments rather than throwing money on an ad, which you can do, go ahead and make sure that you’re casting correctly and make sure that you are diversifying in front and behind the camera, the people who are creating your work, do all those things, but make sure that you’re committing to it longer term than just a campaign.

John Roberts: It’s a great point, Jineen, I think Alexis ties back to your Facebook example. Honestly, I think agency folk were ADHD butterflies historically, right? And it’s actually a strength in an agency to be that. But it worries me a little bit, Jineen, coming back to what you were saying, that this can’t be about just a short-term action, a black square on Insta and we’re done. Okay? Or a commitment to level of support. It is going to be building longer term.

Alexis Agosto: And you know what, John-

John Roberts: So what do you suggest? Yeah. Go ahead.

Alexis Agosto: Actually, going back to your original question of like us not wanting to offend people, is that why we’re a little holding back or whatever, clients, and it talks to Jineen’s point as well. Clients are actually pushing back on ad agencies now in a way that they never have before, making sure-

John Roberts: Tell me more. I was going to ask that. What are you saying?

Alexis Agosto: Yeah. They’re making sure… So I had a conversation with one of our MAIP alum from ’83, I want to say, and he is at Bacardi and he works as their, I think he’s a senior digital marketer, I’m not sure of his full title. But we had a transparent conversation and he said, “You know what, we’re now going back to our advertising agencies that are working on our campaign and saying, ‘Hey, if your employee base is not representative of our consumers and our own employee base, i.e., if you don’t have enough people of color, we don’t want you to working on our campaigns.'” So clients and brands are actually pushing back in a way that they never have before. So it’s forcing us to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

John Roberts: Yep. Jineen, are you seeing that from an agency that is awfully ahead in many ways of many of us?

Jineen Carcamo: Yeah. I think we’re benefiting from that shift in perspective in a way that like, we’re getting a lot of calls. We’re getting a lot of, and I think Alexis gets us too on the 4A’s side. Everyone’s like, “Okay, so who can I go to now? Who knows people?”

John Roberts: Yep.

Alexis Agosto: Oh my gosh. Yes.

Jineen Carcamo: And then everyone with a track record, they’re like, “Okay, let’s go to that person. Let’s go to [inaudible].” So I think we get to a situation as an agency where we have to truly evaluate and vet the opportunities that we’re getting in the door. Like, are you willing to commit? What is your longterm impact? And are you willing to be uncomfortable? Are you ambitious? Are you going to be on top of yourself? Most of the work, the client sometimes get a little scared. They’re like, “This is a lot, but this is authentic. And this is true to your audience. This is how you need to be speaking. This is how you need to be acting as a brand. So you need to be willing to go there if you want to work with us and if you want to do the work that you’re saying you’re trying to do.”

John Roberts: Very true. And we’re having similar conversations ourselves. And it comes back to, all joking aside, to that authenticity and transparency we were just laughing about. It is absolutely true, right? We need to expect that within ourselves, but also with clients. Let me ask. I saw recently a fantastic piece of work The Martin Agency shared to the world, they call a visibility brief about making some specific recommendations within their briefing process of what can we do as strategists to make a difference? We talked earlier about this. Jineen, is there anything that you think about from the work that you do that we can learn from and say, “Okay, I could apply that within my experience, within my version of the brief?”

Jineen Carcamo: I don’t think I’ve seen that example. Something that I do in my day-to-day is I partner with brand strategists. So as a data strategist, I have to then be that, not that wall, but the channel in which we’re evaluating the work. Because sometimes you can get to the place where like, I feel like this is true, but my job is to then go out into the real world and using my tools, social listening, using the research I have at my disposal, to evaluate whether that is authentic for the audience that we’re talking about, whether it’s true, whether there is research that supports that inkling, that insight. Which not all strategists love that I have to do that, but my job is I kind of sit on both sides of that fence. So I’m able to jump back and forth and I’m able to empathize and understand that, yes, I see where you’re going. I see that truth. So let me find the research that helps support that, that helps open that even further.

And that’s what I love doing at my job, would call it making the invisible impossible to ignore. So what are the truths that are lying in hindsight and making those so impossible to ignore because they are supported with data, they’re supported with facts, and they’re supported with outcomes. They’re supported with the response that you get when you spotlight a community that’s just been dying to be seen.

Alexis Agosto: Because the numbers don’t lie.

John Roberts: Yeah. Great expression. Really good. Alexis, what else could we take from the 4A’s? I know there was a giant we poured through the DI&E playbook from Simon Fenwick during the summer, it’s like 150 pages [crosstalk]-

Alexis Agosto: Oh my goodness. Yes. I actually took some gems from that.

John Roberts: So what are the typical questions people are asking?

Alexis Agosto: So the questions that I usually get from agencies is first and foremost, where do I find the diverse talent? So it comes from a recruitment perspective. But now more so the questions are, what could I be doing? How can I be enhancing my D&I efforts? What am I doing wrong? And so, like I said before, lots of agencies have employee resource groups and that’s great. However, it doesn’t mitigate the fact that the culture as overall could be improved by simply engaging each person’s full potential. Don’t put me on a campaign just because it is directly speaking to ethnic population that I belong to. And if so, why am I the only one at the table that looks like that? Get some other people that look like me.

So recruitment is definitely the first and foremost that I get, but simply just like having conversations. I can’t stress it enough, being authentic, talk to your employees, see what it is that you could be doing better. Get their viewpoints on where the agency is right now, what could be done to enhance it. Have safe spaces, especially when this… With this election year, I think one of the things that was truly important for agencies to do was hold safe spaces for people of color to be able to express their concerns with the election. Because a lot of people of color were really nervous about Trump coming back into rule. And so something as simple as that. One agency, I’m forgetting the name of the agency, but a MAIP alum had expressed that their agency had done that.

And the impact, something as small as that had such a profound impact on the way this MAIP alum felt that she went in the next day and was like, “Oh my goodness, I can get behind this organization even more because they care about me.

John Roberts: They care.

Alexis Agosto: They want to hear me. They want to see where I’m at, how I’m doing, and how they can improve.” And that speaks volumes.

John Roberts: And it’s funny, it comes back to that openness as well, doesn’t it? In terms of demonstration of commitment when they haven’t got the answers-

Alexis Agosto: Yeah. Exactly.

John Roberts: … but we’re committed to finding a way together and being open about it.

Alexis Agosto: Exactly. Because no one really has the answers. We’re all trying to figure it out together. 2020-

Jineen Carcamo: Exactly. Knowing that you don’t have the answers and being honest about that, just sets the level, I’m okay if you don’t know the answers. I’m not okay with you avoiding having the conversation and just assuming and making decisions on my behalf without taking my perspective or my concerns into consideration.

Alexis Agosto: Yes. And entering into the conversation with an open mind. Taking out the pride and your ego and being able to have an open mind when you’re speaking to someone else about whether it’s D&I or what have you, that just makes, it creates a safer space and it allows you to learn something that you may not have known before and that’s the whole point of life, learn something new every day. So why not implement it within our own organization?

John Roberts: And it’s crazy. Because as you say that, it comes back to a planner by definition, okay? You have to have empathy and you have to have a genuine curiosity and a desire to find something new and questioning your own implicit biases. And we’ve all got them. And this topic in particular, and speaking from my own experience, it’s very easy to be nervous about admitting my own implicit bias, okay? My heritage and trait, whatever that would be. Okay? It’s got me to here. It means that it’s built on a foundation of history, which isn’t necessarily the best way moving forward.

Alexis Agosto: Absolutely. But you know what-

Jineen Carcamo: Yeah. And it’s owning that.

Alexis Agosto: Exactly. Yes, Jineen. It’s owning it.

Jineen Carcamo: And it’s not that everyone else has it figured out. I have, like even in the Hispanic community, Latino community, I can speak to that. There are nuances, there’s colorism, there are problems. There are things that I have to address as an American, but also as someone who has a family across the country, across the globe. So all of those things are constantly at work every day. So there is no end to diversity, equity, and inclusion. There is no end to this. It’s a constant growth. It’s a constant battle to continue to address, and fight, and move forward, and learn from it.

Alexis Agosto: Absolutely. And you know what, that’s exactly what it is. Just owning it, owning it. Even Simon Fenwick, he’s the EVP of the 4A’s talent equity and inclusion team. So he oversees the 4A’s Foundation as well, my boss. And one of the first things that he said to us when he was first hired was, “Listen, I know that I am a white man and I am about to lead all the diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives for the 4A’s and for 4A’s Foundation. I am here to learn as much as I can because yes, I come with 20 plus years of experience, but I don’t know everything. And so I’m relying on you as my team to teach me. I’m here to be your support.” And so him simply coming with that authenticity saying, “I realize my privilege. I know that I have certain privileges, for lack of a better word, that I’ve been able to take advantage of throughout my life.

And now I’m serving populations that don’t have that same privilege. So if I have blind spots, please call them out. I welcome it.” So having that transparency and that authenticity, it just allowed us to create some amazing new programs with the Vanguard, with the Equity and Inclusion Congress. If you come in with that energy, then change will be a result of it. You just have to be honest with yourself.

Jineen Carcamo: I also think it’s the, not to overshadow the new programs, but built off of the commitment and the work of MAIP for however, the 47 years that we’ve had, it is that. You can’t just build these things and expect that they take off. MAIP and the 4A’s have put in that work over decades. And that’s what helps them be the forefront and the voice of what it means to be an equitable and diverse organization. And that’s why they get their lines hitting up. That’s why Alexis is in meetings all the time.

Alexis Agosto: Oh my goodness, girl. You want to take some meetings for me?

Jineen Carcamo: No. I got my own. I got my own.

John Roberts: No, thank you. So it’s funny because we’re recording this at the end of a hell of a year for everybody, right? But if we hadn’t had such a terrible year in many ways, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Alexis Agosto: I don’t think so.

Jineen Carcamo:  I think that we, when I say we, I think Alexis and I and John, I’m going to put you into the umbrella. I think we would be having those conversations. We’ve been having these conversations for well beyond, before this year and well past this year. We’re going to continue having these conversations. We are committed to this cause. And that’s why I’m glad that we’re having this conversation and I’m going to continue talking about it. It’s now on a bigger scale, there are now more-

John Roberts: Correct.

Jineen Carcamo: There’s now more money in the pot, but I think this conversation is always important and always relevant.

Alexis Agosto: Yeah. It’s always important, and I agree with you. We would be having these conversations because we always do. But if I’m going to be honest, I don’t think that we would be having these conversations if we didn’t go through the racial reckoning that we’ve just been through as a nation. When you as a person of color sees someone who looks like you get murdered in the street without having any weapons or just an innocent bystander or what have you for no reason, that creates an anger within you. You know what I mean?

John Roberts: Yeah.

Jineen Carcamo: Yeah.

Alexis Agosto: If we weren’t so angry, I get angry when I look at that and I’m like, oh hell no, we got to do something. I don’t care if we have to protest, we have to do something because we’re being pushed in a corner and we’re like, what else can be done? My voice is not being heard. And so I think having that consecutively happen one after the next, with the murders of George Floyd and just everyone, that really lit a fire in people of color, and more specifically the black community. And it forced us to shout at the top of our lungs and say, “This is not okay.” And so I think because of that, people are finally listening to our voices and saying, “Okay, I see what’s going on. Now we need to address it.”

So in a way, the Black Lives Matter movement this year, I think as… 2020 was a crazy year, but I’m grateful for the way that it has transpired because it has promoted not only these conversations, but these actions to be able to physically change what needs to be fixed, if that makes sense.

John Roberts: Great way of summing it up, Alexis, and I think it comes back… It still connects to me, Jineen, when I think about what you were talking about and we’ve been talking about today, which is as the role of a strategist in, obviously Planner Parley is primarily for small agencies… it’s for all strategists, right? But the role of a strategist, you cannot be a strategist to a planner without continuing to fuel this fire, continuing to really push harder to have more dramatic change in our work and our workplace than we’ve had before.

Alexis Agosto: Absolutely.

John Roberts: Guys, this has been fantastic. Any closing thoughts for the pod listeners? Last minute tips or thoughts about what can we do more of or less off, Jineen?

Jineen Carcamo: I think as we continue to sit on our couches, in our homes, as safe as we can be, well, if you’re lucky enough and you’re blessed enough to do that, continue to consume but consume consciously. Consume to inform your different perspectives, consume to learn new ways to empathize with others. I keep hammering that home. They’re soft skills, but those skills are the hardest to really sharpen. So watch something that you wouldn’t normally watch or read a book that has nothing to do about your life. Learn something new. I think that’s the way as strategists we continue to grow. I think it’s vastly important at this current moment to understand the history of racial inequality in America, around the world. Politically understand where we’ve been so that we are smarter and sharper about what’s happening now. So I think that’s my tip.

John Roberts: It’s great. Thank you.

Alexis Agosto: It’s a good tip. Thank goodness you went first girl.

John Roberts: So Alexis, follow that. What would be yours?

Alexis Agosto: I agree with everything that Jineen said, and I think just an added step that I would want to take for myself would be challenge yourself, ask your community, your friends, whether they’re close friends or not close friends, whatever, ask them to be authentic and say, “Hey, is there anything that I could be improving on within my communication, within…” just whatever it could be. Be honest with me because sometimes we don’t see our own blind spots, but other people see them within us. And if they can call you out on it and you can be willing and ready to receive that message, then you are putting yourself and setting yourself up for success.

So I think being honest, it goes back to the theme of what we’re talking about today. Honesty, authenticity, be comfortable with being uncomfortable and really challenge yourself to grow. A lot of it is quite honestly self-work. When you can reach a place where you are willing to assess yourself in a very honest way and be honest and real with yourself, then you can be able to promote change not only in you, but in other people.

Jineen Carcamo: Alexis and I are going to have a conversation after this, we’ll chat. I need to learn.

Alexis Agosto: I got you. I got you.

John Roberts: Fantastic. Well, guys, our time is up and as ever, I’ve loved listening, learning, and hearing your enthusiasm as well as you’re smart. So I really appreciate you making the time. Thank you.

Alexis Agosto: Thank you so much.

Jineen Carcamo: Yeah. I do want to say, thank you, Alexis, so much for inviting me. John, thank you for having me.

Alexis Agosto: Of course.

Jineen Carcamo: I didn’t say before, but MAIP is the only reason that I am in the position I am today and the career that I have today. And I know I’m not alone in that sentiment.

Alexis Agosto: [crosstalk] girl.

Jineen Carcamo: So I do appreciate that Alexis has thought differently into this conversation and that, John, you were able to bring all this out of us. So thank you guys so much.

John Roberts: Thank you.

Alexis Agosto: Thank you, Jineen. And thank you, John, so much for inviting us to be a part of this conversation. I thoroughly had a great time-

John Roberts:  Awesome.

Alexis Agosto: … and I think our listeners will enjoy what we had to say today too.

John Roberts: I bet they will. And listen, now I know where you are. I’m going to come and pick your brains sometime both of you, but I really appreciate it.

Alexis Agosto: Come find me. I am available.

John Roberts: Yeah, for sure. Excellent. Alexis, thank you. Jineen, really good to spend time with you as well. Thank you again.

Jineen Carcamo: [crosstalk]. All right, talk to you guys.

Alexis Agosto: Thank you.

Outro:  Planner Parley, a Truth Collective production.