At the Mosaic Awards on June 5, 2016, the AAF’s Chief Operating Officer, Constance Cannon Frazier, delivered a XXX speech that challenged attendees to continue to pursue diversity, unify and expand opportunity.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and I, too, would like to extend a warm welcome to our 2016 Mosaic Awards recipients and guests.
More importantly, I would like to thank each and every one of them for their efforts to expand opportunities and enhance our industry.
In the spirit of celebrating their accomplishments and continuing to pursue the important paths they’ve traveled, tonight we should think about how to further their work for a more inclusive industry and harmonious society.
To do that, I would like to talk about being intentional and accountable as we work to create a better world through advertising.
In 1963, the prolific writer, James Baldwin, challenged us to be active in our pursuit of equality and justice as he reminded us that “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Fifty-three years later, President Obama still found value in Baldwin’s words as he employed them in his commencement address at Howard University.
I would bet that it’s a quote that will never lose its merit.
And, at the very least, on the surface level, we have become an industry that intentionally pursues diversity.
In our words, in our mission statements, and in our core values, we tell the world that we will face and address and overcome the obstacles to inclusion that have long permeated our industry . . . from Cheerios commercials that stand firmly and boldly in the face of those who still wish for a world in which people of different races did not mingle; to companies like Guinness that remind us that even though everyone’s physical ability is different, we all matter and have something to contribute; to agencies who consistently stand up to inequality.
And then there are those who stand up when it’s most difficult.
They’re the real champions, like Muhammad Ali, the beloved boxer and activist who recently left us.
Ali took boxing promotion and purses to new levels, but risked it all for his principles and the injustices he saw.
Most of us – we have the right intentions.
And that’s why we need to talk seriously about accountability in the modern age.
Because good intentions are good, but good intentions have rarely ever been enough to create the changes we know that we need.
For example, recently there has been a lot of conversation around the necessity for Chief Diversity Officers.
Often, the rationale used by those who think we’ve evolved past the CDO is this: that diversity is everyone’s responsibility, and that each individual in an organization should be responsible for diversity and inclusion in everything that they do.
And frankly, this line of thinking is right.
Diversity is everyone’s responsibility.
But we also know that when something is everyone’s responsibility, it is tantamount to having no one in charge.
Let’s think about it:
* Submitting and adhering to budgets is the responsibility of each department and program coordinator, but we would never say we don’t need Chief Financial Officers to make sure the numbers add up.
* Everyone has specific jobs for which they are responsible, but we would never say we don’t need Chief Operating Officers to keep our internal operations on track.
* Each employee in each department is a representative of the company, but we would never say that we don’t need Chief Executive Officers and Presidents and Chairmen to be the primary spokespersons for our organizations.
So why would we ever decide that there should not be a person with whom the buck stops when it comes to diversity, if that person exists for every other part of our operations that we value?
The Chief Diversity Officer serves a variety of functions, depending on the organization.
But the common thread is accountability – there is a go-to person, responsible to colleagues, members of the c-suite and stockholders.
There is an assurance of developing and maintaining a multicultural presence throughout the organization from hiring to promotion; corporate messaging and contracting.
Diversity. Inclusion. Multiculturalism.
They are more than buzzwords; more than a way to crack new markets and increase profits.
They speak to the very soul of the industry, and ultimately, to the very soul of our nation.
Yes, we have made some progress and this is not the time to back down from challenges.
We must continue to move forward, with good intentions and strong accountability measures, and I want the advertising industry to lead the way because we are responsible for creating the images that should reflect our society.
The AAF appreciates all of the corporations that have supported its diversity and inclusion initiatives, as well as all of the work that the professional clubs do to expand the national footprint of multiculturalism.
We can unify. We can expand opportunity. We can be daring. We can create a new future. We can understand and respect one another and infuse that understanding and respect into the words and images that appear in our ads…. because what we say and how we say it matters.