How We're Making a Long-Term Impact on DEI, 5% at a Time

Inside our framework at Code and Theory

In May 2020, our country was rocked by the murder of George Floyd. In the face of that tragedy, our industry faced a reckoning, with Black Americans and Americans of color, their allies and nationally known activists, all pointing to the poor depiction of, or the blatant professional oppression of, Black Americans in advertising and media as a large part of the oppression of Black people's professional, social and economic success in our country today.

With this reckoning, Code and Theory made a promise to our employees and to the industry at large that we had our sights set on not just being more diverse, but becoming an actively anti-racist company. We've always believed that becoming anti-racist is not a destination. There is no final stop marked "Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive." So we transparently committed to the journey of getting better and better through a framework that requires us to frequently and honestly revisit progress against our DEI commitments.

At the outset, we knew we had to develop an agency perspective on diversity, equity and inclusion, and what it means to be actively anti-racist. We first turned to the learnings of the nonprofit sector, particularly the Building Movement Project, for expert guidance in equitable organizational transformation. Those learnings paved the way for our 5% Shifts framework—an agency-wide strategy focused on making measurable changes that can have broad impact. 

By taking on transformational change 5% at a time, we can ensure that we are: breaking our agency's theory of change into smaller achievable goals; focused on improving one aspect of equity one conversation at a time; frequently and transparently tracking our progress; and assessing that progress with emotional honesty and intelligence, allowing us to suss out where the agency needs growth and where employees need to see improvements. Consistency and diligence will not only help us prevent DEI stagnance, but will also frame us up for the next 5% shift.

We are making sure that both our internal and external efforts match. In my experience, I've seen every employee take on their own individual responsibilities to uphold Code and Theory's anti-racist values. In addition to developing our DEI business strategy, internally I oversee our agency's DEI efforts, including an employee-led committee with a rotating chair and roster that helps set employee-centric goals that ladder up to our larger, enterprise-level DEI commitments. Together, we're opening up an avenue for every employee to help effect meaningful and equitable change within our organization and its culture.

On the client side, I am excited to see Code and Theory's Inclusive Design and Marketing practice continue to grow and come to life by ingraining our 5% Shifts strategy into all of the project work we do on behalf of our clients. Our view on inclusive design and marketing, communicated regularly with our clients, is that inclusion is about more than just representation. It's about vulnerability—being vulnerable enough to listen is vital to gaining trust, developing valuable insights, and building a culturally competent brand and staff; accessibility—developing products and services that are accessible across the consumers' spectrum of social, mental and physical abilities as well as emotional needs; and intersectionality—examining the industry and category from the perspectives of those who exist at the intersection of varying systems of social oppression.

This can look like a new name for a professional sports team, a Black American strategy for a 100-year-old brand, a women's campaign that includes the perspectives of both cis and trans women on pain, an Afro-Latina strategic center for a skincare brand looking to regain share in the market, and more. It is key to begin with an audit and then work together with clients to begin crafting their inclusive northstar.

Simply put, the more that consumers and employees, particularly consumers and employees of color, can picture themselves at the center of a brand and at the center of our agency, the more likely we are to move them across the brand's ecosystem and down the conversion funnel, as well as up the commitment curve and through our recruitment pipeline.

Profile picture for user Renée Miller
Renée Miller
Renée Miller is associate director, creative strategy, and the newly appointed chief diversity officer at Code and Theory.

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