Everything big starts small

A few stats to start the conversation:

  • There are fewer Fortune 500 CEOs who are women (4.1 percent) than who are named David (4.5 percent) or John (5.3 percent) — two single male names outnumber an entire gender. (NY Times)
  • Only 5 out of all Fortune 500 companies have African American CEOs. (CDC, Diversity Inc.)
  • For every 10 percent increase in the rate of racial and ethnic diversity on Senior Executive teams, EBIT rises 0.8 percent. (McKinsey)
  • Ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to outperform their respective national industry medians. (McKinsey)
  • Gender diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to outperform their respective national industry medians. (McKinsey)

So how does one begin to tackle an issue of this size and scope? One Minnesota-based nonprofit has found a way...

In 2007, a Twin Cities ad exec recognized the significant racial disparity in his field and decided to do something. What began as a high school experiment grew into The Brand Lab, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing minority representation in advertising, marketing and communications through internships, mentoring, scholarships and advocacy work. 

In 2015-16, Brand Lab volunteers visited dozens of urban schools and spoke with more than 700 students about careers in marketing and communications. It placed nearly 70 interns at 50 corporate and agency sites, giving the students both valuable experience and networking opportunities. These same interns’ graduation rate was 99 percent, compared with a 68 percent graduation rate for other students of color. 

Because the first Brand Lab students are just beginning to enter the workforce, we don’t know the long-term impact of the program but the anecdotal evidence tell us that we are making progress. For perspective, in 2015, the rate of minorities in the advertising industry in the Twin Cities was a mere 6 percent.

Soon, the Brand Lab will expand its reach to Missouri and my hope is this will be the first of many more states to adopt their model. This example demonstrates progress is possible if we are proactive and intentional about adding more women and people of color to our ranks.

The opening scene of my favorite documentary, “The Starfish Throwers,” narrates the famous fable of an old man who encounters a young girl and thousands of starfish stranded on the beach. The old man asks why the girl is wasting her time tossing the starfish back into the ocean, asserting there were so many that she couldn’t make a difference. Defiant, she continues her work, inspiring the old man and others to join her effort, eventually clearing the beach.

The fable is a reminder that while I may feel overwhelmed by the disparities in the workplace, there are steps I can take to help contribute to the solution. I was fortunate to have many mentors — male and female — to support me along the way. While I may not have always appreciated it, I not only recognize the investment they made, I am committed to paying that forward. I hope that you will consider mentoring a young women or person of color — and I expect you’ll find, just as I did, that it’s one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.

To download a full copy of the Relevance Report, click here.