How Marketing Departments Can Build Racially Diverse Leadership

December 1, 2020

Portrait of a woman looking directly into the camera while sitting down and resting her arm on the back of the couch.

As demonstrations spread across the world this summer in response to racial injustice and police brutality on Black communities, brands have shared supportive and reflective messages with their customers spotlighting #BlackLivesMatter.

Though it's important for brands to use their platform to advocate for racial justice globally, they have begun to understand that messaging is not enough. Companies, and the people who work for them, are going to lead the way to a diverse and inclusive future, and marketing departments have a key role to play. 

LinkedIn is also continuing its diversity and inclusion work, which is consistent with our core commitment to increasing diversity, inclusion and belonging. We recently released our 2020 Workforce Diversity Report, which reiterates our dedication to these values.

From the report: “Our commitment to double the number of Black and Latinx senior U.S. employees over the next five years represents one important marker within our broader Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging strategy. We want to be clear that our work is built to create more opportunity more fairly. Creating opportunities for some does not involve taking opportunity away from other groups; rather, our work is focused on expanding our reach and removing barriers to success that disproportionately impact underserved and marginalized communities. We believe this commitment will push us to pursue bolder approaches that will have a positive impact not only on women, Black, and Latinx populations, but on our entire global workforce as we build a diverse and welcoming environment where people of all backgrounds can thrive and do their best work.”

Another recent blog post outlined how LinkedIn is taking concrete steps to ensure equity is built into every part of how we operate. Our marketing and communications organization has made a number of long-term commitments to building a diverse team, including recruiting and growing diverse talent, and investing in manager training on inclusive leadership.

Blacks and Latinx are expected to compose a majority of the U.S. population by 2042 — a statistic that suggests diversity needs to be in the strategy of most businesses. However, the demographic changes in audiences are not yet reflected in many organizations, particularly in the C-suite. According to the Center for Talent Innovation, despite accounting for more than 13% of the U.S. population, Black people hold just 3.2% of the senior leadership roles at large companies in the U.S. and 0.8% of all Fortune 500 CEO positions.

The State of Black Women in Corporate America, which was released in August by nonprofit Lean In, illustrates that workplace advancement is even more tenuous for Black women. The report, which draws from McKinsey & Company’s annual Women in the Workplace study, found that Black women are severely underrepresented in leadership roles; for every 100 men who advance to a managerial role, 58 Black women advance, in comparison to 80 white women and 72 women overall.

Representation in Marketing Leadership Matters

A lack of Black leadership is a particular challenge in marketing and advertising, which underscores a broader lack of overall diversity. 

Earlier this year, some 600 Black advertising and marketing professionals sent an open letter challenging the industry to go beyond performative allyship and address systemic racism in the workplace, including the dearth of Black leadership in executive roles.

“We have seen messages of solidarity sent out by several agencies and agency leaders. Though we are encouraged by these messages, their words ring hollow in the face of our daily lived experiences,” the letter read. “After decades of well-intentioned diversity & inclusion efforts, we have seen little progress in making Black voices a more representative part of the creative process. We have seen even less progress in ensuring equitable representation of Black professionals in senior and leadership positions.”

Executive search firm Spencer Stuart’s annual report, which tracks the average tenure of America's chief marketing officers, revealed a positive development for diversity: there was a significant jump in the number of women in the CMO role in 2019 — 43% of CMOs last year were women, compared to 36% in 2018. This progress is worth celebrating. In contrast, though, just 14% of all CMOs have racially diverse backgrounds, which includes Asian, Latinx, and Black women in the category of “racially diverse.” The Association of National Advertisers’ “A Diversity Report for the Advertising/Marketing Industry” shows Black employees hold just 3% of CMO or CMO-equivalent roles and 4% of senior-level roles.

There was a bright spot in Spencer Stuart’s report in terms of racial equity: the number of new CMOs from racially diverse backgrounds jumped 19% last year. By contrast, it didn’t grow at all in 2018. But even with encouraging stats like these, we must recognize that many organizations have a long way to go in  prioritizing racial equity, which is more than diversity: It’s about providing genuine access and opportunities for the advancement for Black employees, as well as employees from all underrepresented groups. It’s about acknowledging there are existing barriers to those employees’ success at your company and working toward establishing an environment where they have access to opportunity and thrive.

It has been proven time and again that racially diverse leadership makes a company more profitable and boosts performance. According to more research from McKinsey, companies with the most racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. What’s more, companies with the least racial diversity actually lag in performance compared to their peers. But leaders across industries continue to overlook these results — even after seeing reports, for example, showing that Black women are the most educated demographic in the country. We should be asking ourselves: Why aren’t these numbers represented in our industries? Why aren’t we creating environments at our companies to attract this talent?

Reimagine ‘Diversity’

We need to transform and evolve the way we think about and talk about diversity in our companies. Rather than doing it in terms of racial quotas or philanthropy and then pushing those initiatives to the margins, we should be putting diversity, inclusion and belonging front-and-center in our growth strategies and core company values. (LinkedIn has recently added “embody diversity, inclusion, and belonging” as a core value.) This will provide more opportunity for Black, Latinx and all underrepresented employees, and generate better business performance.

Here are three of the many actions LinkedIn is taking to boost and retain diverse leadership in our marketing organization, which we hope can be helpful to others.

  1. Grow diverse talent. Developing and retaining the diverse talent we have is a critical priority. We’ve expanded our retention and development initiatives, including new investments in onboarding and mentorship. For example, we have Onboarding Circles for many of our new Black and Latinx employees. This program helps us ensure we’re investing in developing diverse talent and has served as an invaluable source of real-time feedback.  
  2. Recruit diverse talent. We are requiring a diverse slate of candidates in the onsite stage of the interview process. It’s important to get comfortable hiring someone who hasn’t done the job before but has the skills.
  3. Invest in manager training. We are doubling down on building a people manager population that’s world class in inclusive leadership, with a company-wide learning curriculum and accountability framework. As an example, we’ve shared with our own employees — and also made available for free to all LinkedIn members — two relevant learning paths: Invest in Allyship and Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging for All. We will broadly share any successes we see with the goal of raising the collective capabilities of all organizations.     

This is just the first in a series of articles on the LinkedIn Marketing Blog that will spotlight how marketing departments can lead diversity efforts at their companies. Hiring Black, Latinx and all underrepresented talent is good for business, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to creating environments in which underrepresented employees can thrive. Let’s change this — together.

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