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Diverse Faces Are Not The Same As Diverse Voices


Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Rishad Tobaccowala, chief growth officer at Publicis Groupe and author of “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” (Harper Collins, publishing on Jan. 28, 2020).

All leaders, and particularly those in marketing and media, face many challenges today, including organizational designs built for the past vs. the present, hierarchical command-and-control management styles that do not resonate with a new generation and employees who question their intent.

One key change that companies are making to address these issues is to ensure that they have a more diverse work force that will resonate with the marketplace and with their talent.

Ensuring diversity is not just the right thing to do, but is proven to be good for the bottom line as a representative workforce is a competitive advantage when talent is key, change is widespread and new ways of looking at things become critical.

However, ensuring a diversity of faces is a necessary but insufficient step. Not only do companies need different faces around the table, but they also need diversity in thinking. We need to ensure that every person in a firm and around the table has a voice.

Most importantly, it is critical to have voices that can speak truth to power, question the status quo, call out potential issues and be heard without the risk of being punished.

Today in the field of marketing and technology, there are huge issues that need to be discussed including a) the control major platforms have over marketers, who find themselves with limited data and customer relationships; b) how advertising technology built for engagement has become a society operating system that has created polarization and a breakdown in trust; and c) the long-term secular decline of advertising, which will be accelerated by cheap, ad-free streaming services.

There are voices that question and have suggestions on how to solve or mitigate these issues.

If such voices were listened to, many companies, such as Wells Fargo and possibly Boeing, would not have suffered their reputational and market valuation losses. There were people who knew there were issues, but they either kept quiet or were silenced or ignored.

For true diversity it is key that people can call out the turd on the table when everyone else is celebrating what looks like a delicious brownie.


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This is very difficult since the issues being called out are challenging. Financial impropriety. Cutting corners to make deadlines, which hurts product or service quality. Loathsome behavior by management. Incompetence in adapting to change.

In addition to the difficulty of speaking out, there is the risk of job loss, increased workload to fix the problem, career blackballing and, of course, the possibility of being wrong.

But speaking one’s mind is not just important in helping to avoid big problems or issues. It also creates an environment that helps day-to-day business.

  • Increases effectiveness of teams: The best teams feel connected to each other and feel a sense of empathy and trust. Straight talk helps foster these qualities.
  • Gets to the root of problems: Continuous improvement is critical in a fast-moving competitive age. This means identifying threats, weaknesses and issues. These are much easier to do when voices are not stifled.
  • Fosters creativity and innovation: For great ideas and creativity we need trampolines of trust and an environment where disruptors can disrupt without having their lives and careers disrupted.

Speaking up is difficult in all circumstances but particularly if management and the culture is not supportive.

Studying many companies and organizations, including firms as diverse as Pixar and the Navy Seals, has revealed some best practices that one can unleash to encourage diversity of voice.

  • Ask everyone to speak, from the most junior to the most senior.
  • Celebrate truth-tellers and status quo breakers when they are right with promotions and financial rewards.
  • Bring in outside speakers and truth-tellers to share cases from outside and run workshops.
  • After each project ask how things could have been done better.
  • Management should ask people to build a case for why the decision being taken by management is wrong. A postmortem before the project has begun allows people to say what they need to.

Being sensitive to diversity of voices as much as to diversity of faces will ensure long-term success for companies.

Follow Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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