As Black History Month comes to a close, it's important to remain committed to creating lasting change on the journey to equality. We had a moment to chat with Nicole Simpson, DE&I Director at RAPP, about how agencies can continue to support BIPOC talent beyond hiring.
Please talk about your role and your approach to improving diversity and inclusion internally. Do you think that industry as a whole has genuinely created pathways for equal opportunities, starting with graduate hires through to senior roles?
As a DE&I practitioner, my role varies from day to day. Some days I am a strategist. Some days I am a healer. My approach to improving DE&I internally is to help people have a better understanding of themselves and to challenge the idea that we leave ourselves at the door. It is important for us to remember that we are whole human beings with intersectional identities and that we need to bring grace and empathy to all interactions with our colleagues.
I do not think that the industry has genuinely created pathways for equal opportunities. We have begun to make progress, but we are traditionally a very top-heavy industry that doesn't leave much room to hire for entry-level positions or to promote our talent with the urgency that is needed to move the needle. I don't think that we've done a good job of demystifying the path forward for our talent. We haven’t done a proactive job of addressing succession planning. We haven’t done enough to make sure that our talent from underrepresented groups is being properly cultivated, provided with mentorship, sponsorship and the scaffolding they need to continue to move up.
How are you advising your clients to connect their brands with BIPOC communities?
I won't pretend to understand the secret sauce behind what our brilliant diversity strategy team does, but I will say that my agency is incredibly committed to diversity strategy and we have an entire practice devoted to it. We make sure that we are trying to guide our clients to show up authentically through inclusive campaigns, use of diverse suppliers, and ensuring that their messaging is resonating in an authentic way with the diverse communities that they’re targeting.
What are some steps companies can take to avoid appearing as though they are pandering rather than authentically improving their inclusivity?
Companies must show that they truly care. Companies can avoid appearing as though they're pandering by not only recruiting and hiring the best and the brightest talent, but also ensuring that talent feels seen, welcomed and cultivated when they get there. I think that part of the issue is that we think that creating pipelines solves the problem, but it doesn't. You can bring people from underrepresented groups and marginalized communities into your respective company, but if you do not have the proper support systems for those people when they get there, they will inevitably leave your organization.
What efforts has your agency offered to support the BIPOC community in the ad industry?
I'm incredibly proud of the programs at RAPP that have been started in order to support the BIPOC community in the ad industry. We just launched The Table Makers, a sponsorship program which supports BIPOC talent at our agency who don’t currently see themselves reflected in leadership enough. Research shows that sponsorship is an incredibly effective tool for advancement, and we are intentionally creating these relationships for our BIPOC talent that do not always develop organically on their own.
Creating an intentional sponsorship program is RAPP’s way of moving towards equity for marginalized communities. We also launched the Emerging Leaders Program in 2021, a talent recruitment and retention initiative designed to help people without college degrees break into advertising. The first participant in that program, Christian Wimberly, is now my sponsee in the Table Makers and it is incredible to see how being offered the opportunity to work at RAPP has forever changed the trajectory of his life. We know that it takes a multi-pronged approach to create real change and I know that these intentional programs will continue to move the needle towards equity and belonging.