How a non-profit in Austin, Texas is changing the face of creative talent.
Diversity, and the lack thereof, in the advertising business has been a hot topic for discussion and study (i.e., Adobe’s 2017 study— “Creativity’s Diversity Disconnect”[https://www.adweek.com/agencies/new-adobe-study-highlights-diversity-issues-in-the-advertising-industry/]) for several years now. The debate includes both supplier diversity (inclusion of diverse small businesses) and diversity and inclusion (talent). To date, there has been a great deal of talk, mostly about the diversity of leadership, but not much action in creating opportunities for or developing the talents of young diverse creatives—until now.
Eight years ago, Carl Settles, founder and executive director of E4 Youth, a non-profit based in Austin, Texas, called Max Rutherford, vendor partner diversity director at GSD&M. This call led the men and their organizations down the road to action.
E4 Youth works with top creative and technology partners to provide industry access and rewards for promising students within their programs. Entering its 10th year in Austin, Texas, E4 Youth has led more than 2,500 creative youths through the process of engagement, education, employment and entrepreneurship. The goal is to continue creating an ecosystem of peers, near-peers and caring professionals that help young creatives reach their full potential.
Industry partnerships have included SXSW (South by Southwest), GSD&M, McGarrah Jesse, Liaison Resources, Sanders/Wingo, Sherry Matthews, LatinWorks, Univision, C3 Presents, IBM Design, Google Fiber and many others.
Many non-profit organizations talk about reaching back, but unlike E4 Youth, there is talk, but not much action. E4 Youth’s “Get Creative Clubs” (after-school enrichment activities) serve as vital entry points into the creative ecosystem of schools and industry partners. These provide students with micro-credentials that will help them qualify for industry access, job shadowing, internships and apprenticeship opportunities. Every class begins with an employability activity that helps students cultivate the social and emotional learning skills needed to flourish in the workplace.
According to Settles, “E4 Youth’s Employability Curriculum™ is our secret sauce. Students participate in 20- to 30-minute activities that focus on team building, critical thinking and media literacy skills. Our priority is to help them find a voice and build stronger relationships because talent is rarely the issue. It’s the ability to communicate and work in collaborative environments that will most likely determine their success.”
Enter Max Rutherford and GSD&M. According to Rutherford, saying “yes” to Carl Settles and E4 Youth 10 years ago was a no-brainer. Rutherford’s background in supplier diversity, first with Mars, Inc. and then with GSD&M, predisposed him to support the core value of GSD&M which is “to make a difference.”
GSD&M is an advertising agency founded in 1971 by a group of graduates from the University of Texas at Austin. By their own admission, they “live by our core values and believe an agency should be able to think like the diverse, multicultural world that it’s talking about.”
Over the past five years and under the partnership developed by Settles and Rutherford, GSD&M has employed three sets of students. In the last year and a half, one set of students worked on projects for Southwest Airlines, John Deere and Food Lion; these were paid internships, adding the selected student’s creative talents to each project. Another set of students was paid a stipend to work on various projects under the tutelage of various mentors and coaches. They also attended classes and organizational club meetings during this time.
Through their work with GSD&M and other corporate partners, students learn what a true work environment is all about. They take away useful assets such as workplace values, soft skills and high emotional intelligence quotients which will give them better job opportunities in the creative world.
Just short of two years ago, the HP chief marketing and communications officer called on agencies to put forward a proposal outlining how each agency will improve on the number of women and people of color within their creative departments. In 2017, AdWeek reported the results: the number of women in leadership positions improved, “…but when it comes to underrepresented groups, [Antonio] Lucio (former global chief marketing officer, HP) noted the agencies have a lot of room for improvement.”
E4 Youth and GSD&M are providing talent and future leaders from underrepresented groups to the creative world.
Take heed Madison Avenue, the future of diversity in advertising is coming from Austin, Texas.