“Nobody in this room reflects my background, my skin color, and where I’m from and what I want to do.”
The quote above was famously (and allegedly) said by Beyonce in response to a partnership opportunity she declined with Reebok, in direct response to the lack of diversity she experienced while interacting with them.
October is Global Diversity Awareness Month, so we thought it was important that we voice the thoughts & opinions of some of our own team that make up the unique Thirsty Agency culture. We asked Thirsty’s own Creative Director, Carlos Oliva and Director of Operations, Christina Young their thoughts on diversity:
How has your background uniquely influenced the work you do/perspective you bring?
Carlos: I come from a very Latino family. English wasn’t even my first language, and I’m very proud to say that. I’m the oldest of 4 siblings with 3 sisters. I know growing up in so cal (Los Angeles specifically) most people see a Latino kid and instantly think “mexican” but that oversimplifies the wide variety of cultures that call LA home. My father is Guatemalan and my mother is Mexican, and are both very proud of where they come from.
My dad, as anyone who is proud of where they come from, would be, was always bothered when he was generalized as something else. Growing up with all sisters and being the older brother definitely had an enormous impact on my life and my perspectives and having an almost 50/50 mentality is probably what made me have more of a connection/interest with cultures and people that fell outside of my bubble. How were other cultures being generalized or overlooked in a way that was minimizing or harmful?
Fast Forward to today and my entire life experience has definitely let me keep an open mind to everything I come in contact with. I tend to look at everything from all sides, whether it’s a message we are trying to convey or the way an image will make someone feel. I know that there is no way I will have all the answers, so I try to relate to the subject matter as much as I can and am also more than willing to lean on the perspective/experiences of our team and anyone we can bring in or connect with that can help broaden our point of view to helps us grow and understand.
Christina: I think growing up in a Mexican American household/neighborhood and going to Catholic school in East LA made my view pretty narrowed and familiar. I identified with the people around me because we all had pretty similar backgrounds and came from similar families. It wasn’t until the end of high school / going into college that I started to really experience different perspectives from a much more diverse array of peers and professors (some more positive than others). I had started to see the “real world” (and not the MTV kind), and that opened my eyes to a much wider view.
Now, when I work on campaigns I try to keep empathy top of mind. I strive to see how every idea or tagline or campaign might be perceived by not just myself, but anyone who might be exposed to it. I question and explore and try to find deeper meaning in things but am painfully aware that I don’t have all the answers. My first question is usually, who is seeing this? If I can put myself in the mindset of the intended audience, I can be comfortable moving forward. If I can’t, then I know we need to do some more research, bring in more outside perspectives, etc.
What value do you think diversity brings to Thirsty?
Carlos: The value of diversity in any aspect of business or just society is huge. I also think that along with diversity…open-mindedness (is that a word?)…is another big component. Seeing and hearing different points of view helps bring a brand new perspective to everything you thought you knew/understood.
At Thirsty, our different backgrounds and life experiences help us shine a different light on everything we do. I think it’s been a giant factor in our success so far as an agency.
Christina: I think diversity brings value to any agency setting. In campaigning especially, it’s always valuable to have different perspectives coming together and brainstorming, sharing past experiences, sharing the different things that make us all unique. Everyone at Thirsty has different backgrounds, different ideas, and motivations that have shaped us to be the people we are now. I think it helps us to tell more diverse stories for our clients. It also helps us grow on the operations side. By bringing on people or working with partners that have different perspectives, we’re able to see beyond our little circle. We can step out of our comfort zone and that always makes us better.
How do you see diversity continuing to be emphasized by marketing and advertising going forward?
Carlos: I think diversity is the only way to move forward. It’s actually pretty sad to say but it’s only recently that you’ve seen advertising start to meaningfully move in this direction. The pictures being painted are new, refreshing and above all, inclusive. I can only see this growing as more and more stories about different people/families/genders/cultures are being told. It’s not only an amazing thing to see but also the only way everyone puts their differences aside and we grow as a society.
Christina: I think it’s only going to get better. The fact that we’re seeing more diverse stories being told, seeing new faces, body types, situations, than we’ve all been used to seeing, that’s telling me that there’s more to come. Brands are starting to wake up and see what happens when you change the status quo. The only way that agencies can keep up with the demand for fresh takes, is by taking chances and hiring diverse creatives who have different stories to tell.
The agency world (and many other industries as well) is still very much a boys’ club, and even though change doesn’t happen overnight, there does seem to be a noticeable shift in the workplace, at least the ones that I’ve been a part of, more recently. There’s still a long way to go, though – the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that while women make up 47.6% of the marketing and sales managers sector, Hispanic/Latinx only make up 9.7%, African Americans make up 6.7%, and Asians make up 5.4%.
I think more than “diversity” though, the important word here is “inclusivity.” It’s not enough to just hire more women, or more people of color, or more differently-abled people. Diversity doesn’t go far if those voices aren’t heard, or allowed to influence strategy and direction.
It’s like CEO, Karen Kaplan has said: Diversity is being invited to prom; inclusion is being asked to dance. And I think that kind of influence has to come from the top, it has to be a part of the core values of the agency for it to really work and change things.