Reaching and Retaining Diverse Talent During “The Great Resignation”

  • Marketing Team
  • BIMA
  • Dec 1, 2021

As organizations work to hire and retain diverse talent across industries, they are met with the additional complexities of the “great resignation” or what some call the “great reassignment” brought on by the changes in work that happened during the course of the pandemic. These challenges are happening as a result of a mismatch between the job environments and what employees want or expect, with what they have. The “great resignation” is causing employers added challenges in the hiring and retention process, with talent shortages requiring hiring managers to look beyond their regional locations to hire across the country for positions that can be accommodated by remote workers. 

Recently, BIMA and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel to address these challenges in the advertising industry. Kelly Heath, the Head of People at Gupta Media (a mid-sized performance marketing agency), and Erica Casey, the SVP and Head of Talent from Digitas (a global marketing and technology agency), joined us to share their insights on this topic. The following are the key takeaways that may help other organizations looking to hire and retain diverse talent, and adapt to the new world of work:  

Build Relationships with Organizations Across the U.S. to Recruit Diverse Talent  

Many organizations go to the same pool to look for interns and employees, and for a while, that may have worked. Over the last 18 months with remote work, however, we’ve seen an evolution in how talent is recruited and an ability to work remotely that has allowed many candidate searches to go national. This has led to an evolution in how organizations go to market and attract talent. For Digitas, building relationships with organizations that get to know them as an agency, and a brand, has helped with hiring. They have partnered with the 4A’s for over a decade (and worked with its MAIP, Multicultural Advertising Intern Program), worked with the (an eight-year-old program committed to identifying existing talent to join the media, marketing, and advertising industry) and has partnered with Bunker Hill Community College to hire interns into the Boston office. These organizations know Digitas and its culture and can bring diverse talent to them (directly or via recruiters) that are a fit for the organization.  Multicultural Talent Pipeline Forum (an eight-year-old program committed to identifying existing talent to join the media, marketing, and advertising industry) and has partnered with Bunker Hill Community College to hire interns into the Boston office. These organizations know Digitas and its culture and can bring diverse talent to them (directly or via recruiters) that are a fit for the organization.   

Some organizations and industries aren’t inherently diverse (advertising being among them) and in some cases, it’s hard for diverse talent to see a path for themselves in these industries.

Partnering with organizations that can expose diverse talent to their job opportunities and help bring them to the industry is the first step in making these organizations places that become more diverse and allow others to see a path for themselves in as well.  

Don’t Just Promote DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), Practice What You Preach  

Many organizations promote equity and inclusion in their workplaces, but are they walking the walk and living by what is promoted to candidates? Gupta Media has a DEI committee in place and uses an applicant tracking system to ensure candidates are reviewed on their merit, and nothing else. Additionally, they use technology to evaluate how job descriptions are written to see if they would attract specific candidate types based on the way they are written (like more male versus female candidates, for example). At Digitas, each department talks about its inclusion goals, and employees go through a lot of required training. They have also created a Multicultural Center of Excellence that ensures their clients are aware of DEI efforts and the influence they have had on client outcomes.  

DEI doesn’t stop with hiring, it also means payment equity. Having a well-defined structure around compensation models, doing annual salary surveys, and scrubbing and auditing that data to ensure new hires and promotions are equitable against the peer group (across gender and race) are a few ways to achieve this.  

Support Employee Resource Groups  

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are employee-led groups formed within organizations by employees who share a common characteristic (race, gender, religion, interest area, etc.). They allow employees to expand their networks across organizations (including with leadership) and their cultural awareness. An ERG might expose an organization to customs some employees celebrate, like Diwali, as one example.  

As these groups are getting started, it is important to make sure the long-term goals are evident for employers to buy in, as executive support from the start is critical to the success of these groups, which play a role in fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces.  

Set Your Organization Apart with Employee-Led Culture Building & Accountability  

Like many industries, ad agencies have high turnover. It is the people and culture that retain employees and so much of the success of building a great work culture is having it be employee-led. Digitas points out that pet insurance and unlimited PTO (paid time off) are benefits employees have come to expect in the industry. Defining what it means to work hybrid, what each team needs to get work done, giving company-wide holiday breaks where everyone feels they can unplug together, and creating mental wellness programs and business resource groups are some of the things that employees have built their culture around. Digitas has been on Best Places to Work lists many times, but it takes nothing for granted and knows there is always room for improvement. Doing focus groups and surveys to help employees feel heard is just half the battle.

Listening to what employees say, showing accountability, reporting on what the organization will do based on these learnings, engaging employees individually to understand their needs, and providing professional growth opportunities are the things that help separate organizations from the rest of their industry.  

At Gupta Media, the organization hit some growing pains when it brought Kelly to the team as its first Head of People. By doing NPS (Net Promoter Score) Surveys, talking to employees to figure out what they want, and evolving the structure of the organization accordingly, they saw the percentage of staff feeling highly valued up from 45% to 70% in just a year from 2020 to 2021. For many employees, being heard is the first step. Gupta Media also found that many of their employees welcomed the opportunity to be back in an office so that they could have an in-person onboarding, separate their work and personal lives, and have a dedicated space to work with no distractions. Turnover is down from 45% to 6% since it opened its office and hiring is up. While Digitas has seen its employees embrace the flexibility that comes with remote work, the office-first structure (with flexibility when needed) built on the concept of “default trust” has worked well for the employees of Gupta Media and has actually been an advantage for many. This is exactly why it is so important to let employees drive culture building. What works well for one organization may run counter to what employees are looking for somewhere else.  

We are all charting new waters as employee and employer relationships have been forever changed by the new way of working brought on by the pandemic. It is more important than ever for organizations to examine their hiring and retention practices, ensure they are truly fostering the diversity, equity, and inclusion that they build mission statements around, and listen to and hold themselves accountable to their employees. In today’s job market, employees are very much in the driver’s seat, and having an employee-built culture can make a world of difference in the ease of hiring and retention of the best talent. 


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