Why Our Diversity Approach Goes Beyond the Numbers

Reaching potential BIPOC employees much earlier in the career process

As Solve's director of business development, I get asked about diversity all the time. And it always seems to come down to one question—what do your numbers look like? Tell us how many BIPOC employees you have. Break down your staff by gender and ethnicity.

Don't get me wrong, numbers are important. We were one of the first agencies to report ours to the 600 & Rising charge last summer (and we're working hard to get better). Even if we're fortunate enough to get to a place where the majority of our staff are people of color, as a small agency that represents only a limited number of individuals. When you look at it that way, it's clear we must go beyond our staff composition to make a real impact. Any other approach would be short-changing our diversity efforts.

As a creative group of problem-solvers, we constantly ask ourselves how we can make the biggest DEI difference. While we're committed to increasing our number of diverse employees, we're compelled to reach further.

One of the fundamental reasons the advertising industry lacks diversity is a shortage of diverse candidates. What's driving the low numbers? That answer is often overlooked: Advertising isn't on the radar of enough BIPOC individuals when, and where, it really counts—at that critical point of deciding a career path. If we're going to fuel more diversity, we need to create more industry interest. That's why we started Project Pipeline.

Our first step was identifying 54 HBCUs that lacked advertising programs. We cold-called with a simple pitch: an introductory advertising curriculum ready to deliver to students, with the goal of inspiring industry careers. We received exactly one response, from the ambitious faculty at Morgan State University. Fast-forward a year later, and we're entering our third semester partnering with the Baltimore-based school.

Our weekly classes, taught by Solve department leaders, are entry-level—we're essentially introducing advertising to most of these students. Subjects include "What Is Advertising?" "Emotional Positioning," "Finding a Target Audience," "Media Connections," "Working at an Ad Agency," "Using Data to Drive Strategy" and "How Creativity Can Cut Through." Additionally, we incorporate assignments and client presentations, which factor into each student's class grade. Following this past spring semester, we hired three of the top students as summer interns. The program's established and ready to scale. Our goal is to bring this curriculum to more HBCUs across the country.

Diversity is about so much more than a staff chart in an RFP response. Rather than focusing solely on the makeup of our organization, we're striving to impact the lives of as many college students as possible—by inspiring young minds to a career in this creative, challenging yet rewarding industry. And finding ways to do that while they're determining a profession. It's been a fulfilling pursuit.

A final word to consultants, prospective clients and potential employees … when you ask about Solve's diversity efforts, don't expect us to start—and end—with our numbers.

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Andrew Pautz
Andrew Pautz is director of business development and partner at Solve.

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