5 Top Agency Leaders on Building Diverse Teams

Views from Saatchi New York, Organic, Marcus Thomas, Stink Studios and FutureBrand

As the advertising industry owns up to perpetuating racism and privilege within its ranks, agency leaders are grappling with how to build more diverse teams for the long haul. Here, five agency leaders discuss their approach to this critical process.

Andrea Diquez

Saatchi & Saatchi New York

"Let's face it, diversity is hard. Much harder than having a team that is made up of the same type of people. However, in my experience, the output is much better and more effective when it comes from a group of diverse, talented people than that of a homogenous team. Success in cultivating diversity is achieved only when you decide not only to hire people who are different but to create the right environment to make it work. This takes time, effort and patience. To start with, everyone on the team has to take the time to learn each other's backgrounds, cultures, approaches, strengths and weaknesses. Once this happens, chemistry is built, and then magic happens. I believe there isn't a single challenge we can't solve when we invite different perspectives, life experiences and ways of thinking to the table. All you need is a team that's purposely made up of people of different races, ages, countries of origin, socioeconomic backgrounds and unique perspectives to push our creativity to be the very best it can be."

Cathy Butler


"The demands for, and actions toward, more diverse and inclusive organizations in the advertising/marketing industries are loud, active and, hopefully, meaningful. The season for change has finally arrived, and let's never go back. The ultimate question is, how do we sustain evolution in a systemically damaged environment to truly create agencies that look equally like our world at large? It starts and ends with agency leadership.

As CEO, I firmly believe that D&I and agency DNA are intricately linked. Let's shift our mindset and actions from an HR-owned diversity and inclusion initiative to a core agency belief system. We must infuse what makes us unique—gender, race, disability, orientation—into our work and employee experience, and firmly expect our partners/clients to respect us in these ways, too.

Recruitment isn't the only solution here. Sponsorship and retention are bigger areas of focus. At Organic, we are piloting programs for external career coaching, EQ-based training, and weekly Un-Townhalls to foster transparent conversations on race, equality and representation. Learning, advocacy and empowerment are equally shared among all of us. As an Asian-American and a woman, the responsibility to fairly represent our world at large starts and ends with me. And I'm here for it."

Elise James DeCruise

Chief Diversity Officer
Marcus Thomas

" 'Meeting people where they are' is both a philosophy and a strategy that will advance your diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives within the workforce, as you attract and hire diverse talent and create a workplace that is inclusive and fosters a culture of belonging.

Teams need to value diversity and inclusion and understand that it should be reflected throughout the full employee life cycle and employee engagement experience, starting with the recruiting process and embedded throughout all communities of practice.

Make inclusion a priority. It's been proven that when a team includes people of different genders, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, etc., it produces more creative, innovative and effective results. That's because diverse groups offer a wider range of experiences, and don't share the same ideas and perspectives of people with similar backgrounds.

Developing your company-wide diversity hiring strategy and creating a culture of inclusiveness and belonging doesn't happen overnight, through osmosis or organically. If recruiting diverse talent, building diverse teams and creating a culture of inclusion and belonging is your goal, then you have to be intentional and committed to the long-term strategy.

Celebrate individuals, teams and experiences that support and align with your company values. Incorporate your values within the experiences that you are creating for your candidates and teams, both internally and externally."

Erin Noel

Director of People + Culture
Stink Studios

"As a global independent studio that strives to create the best possible creative work for clients, taste level matters when hiring for our teams. It has to. Where and how that taste level is identified and cultivated is an opportunity, as an employer, to show up differently.

Our industry is guilty of circulating the same portfolios and résumés within similar walls, and that is just one example of the systemic privilege we perpetuate. The last couple of years at Stink Studios have been a journey of recognizing and overhauling how our hiring practices perpetuate systemic privilege and racism by nature of recognizing and pulling from the same awarded portfolios, institutions and schools.

Outstanding talent is everywhere and only stands to elevate our creative game exponentially. Design school is valuable, but the classroom is just one way to get there. There are numerous organizations and programs dedicated to identifying and mentoring young creative talent: Scope of Work, MAIP, IAM High School, Made In Her Image, and Just Runners, to name a few. Self-taught professionals are extraordinary. We look for people who experiment often and apply as many as five different technical skills to their role interchangeably. If we say we value hiring people with a wide breadth of experiences, cultural influences, work environments and creative business skills, then we have no excuse."

Simon Hill

FutureBrand North America

"Diversity, equity and inclusion is everyone's job. It starts at the top, but all employees are important pieces of the puzzle, and each piece is needed to complete the picture—a wholly inclusive and diverse workplace.

Teams that are the most synergetic and produce the best work are those that bring diverse perspectives, life experiences and personal passions to the workplace day in and day out. Your company's makeup should reflect the rich tapestry of diverse threads that we see more broadly in society. When you're hiring potential candidates, they should be able to see themselves as part of the team. With branding, in particular, your work should also embody this ethos. For example, at FutureBrand, we prioritize building brands from the inside out, not just focusing on their customers and surrounding communities, but also ensuring that their employer brand is in alignment with their purpose and values.

Don't be afraid to push both your clients and your team to make sure they see themselves reflected through leadership, your work and in your culture. Everyone should have a seat at the table."

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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