"We need to stop talking and start acting," advises Diego Scotti, Verizon's Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer and an outspoken advocate for advancing industry diversity and inclusion. "All companies and organizations that represent our industry need to coalesce around common programs and scale them. Impact comes from scale and from industry-wide effort and commitment." Verizon's AdFellows program is among the initiatives that are available for adoption by companies as a best practice and model for both diverse talent recruitment and retention. The AdFellows program is being recognized when Scotti and Verizon are inducted, along with the ANA, P&G, NBA and five other industry leaders into the Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors at CES on January 9. (Scotti is pictured above, left, with several AdFellows.)
AdFellows started as a strategic way of making progress in advancing diversity and inclusion. "A company might be great at attracting diverse talent, but if you cannot create a conducive and inclusive environment to keep them you don't have progress," Scotti says. "I believe in progress, not quotas. It's a fallacy to believe that if we fix the pipeline everything is good." In collaboration with Verizon's roster of agencies, diverse candidates are placed into an eight-month job rotation. Last year's inaugural program graduated 20 AdFellows, followed by 30 this year. "It's a one-two punch," Scotti explains. "We work on the top-line issue of bringing more diverse candidates into the recruitment process. We hope they'll stay with an agency or Verizon, but our commitment transcends wherever they are. Once you're an AdFellow, you're always an AdFellow. Ongoing mentorship needs to be a part of the process. We have incredible momentum and we're hoping for hundreds of AdFellows in years to come.
"Our next goal for the AdFellows program is to get CMOs from other companies to join," he continues. "It's not very costly. It's more the dedication and conviction to do it." For those interested, Verizon and partner agencies are making the know-how, materials and curriculum available. Scotti calls it "AdFellows in a box."
As he looks back on the graduating classes of AdFellows, he's been especially moved by the individual stories. "The numbers are important but not as important as the impact you can have on one person and their family," he notes. "It's amazing. Changing the life of a person and opening possibilities for them is huge."
Scotti experienced a unique introduction to the benefits of an inclusive environment when he led the marketing department at Conde Nast's Vogue, where he was one of three men. He landed there after almost a decade at American Express, which he joined in Miami as a 24 year old in 1997. "I learned from the experience and from a creative group of people who thrived on diversity," he says. A native of Argentina, he had not experienced cultural distinctions or bias in the workplace until he arrived in the U.S. He acknowledges he's been "privileged to be embraced by some wonderful mentors throughout my career. Being part of a community and support network of ex-pats helped me to navigate success when I arrived at Amex. That experience made clear the importance of community and how community drives important issues for a company and society."
Scotti feels "both a sense of responsibility to create change and to communicate how it's good for business. There are very tangible benefits of diversity in the work place. If you do not have diverse points of view in creating plans and in everything we do, we do not have the same benefits. You need to have a culture of accountability. If you don't have it, progress doesn't happen." The company has formed a diversity council comprised of agency heads and Verizon executives to meet quarterly to ensure a culture of accountability.
Verizon, he points out, is a company that has cared about diversity for a long time and has conducted unconscious bias training for every one of the company's 150,0000 employees. "For the AdFellows program, by involving all of our 21 agencies, who account for 1,700 employees, we came together to make progress," he says. "There's a tendency for companies to do their own thing, but when we can coordinate efforts behind a consistent objective, we make a greater impact." Scotti and Verizon are also active supporters of the Ad Council and he is the incoming chairman of the diversity task force.
Fast-forwarding into today's industry, recognizing social responsibility as a core company strategy is a priority. Verizon, he shares, "has an active philanthropic program and has invested hundreds of millions in education. "But if the only thing we do is philanthropic, we are only scratching the surface," he explains. "Running a socially responsible business has to be part of the company strategy. How do we think about the supply chain? Energy use? The environment? How we treat employees? Data privacy? Equal pay? The next frontier is to go from a company that's very good at doing things that are socially responsible to an end-to-end strategy of being socially responsible. It's not only about philanthropy but running every aspect of the business through a filter of social responsibility -- to be a business with social responsibility at its core."
On January 9 at the ARIA Conference Center Verizon and Scotti will be inducted into the Diversity Hall of Honors, along with P&G and its Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard, the ANA and its president Bob Liodice, the 3% Movement (Kat Gordon), the NBA, #FreetheBid (Alma Har-el), Budweiser (Ricardo Marques) and Madonna Badger (Badger & Winters). The Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors is being underwritten by more than 30 media, advertising and marketing companies under the auspices of AdvancingDiversity.org and MediaVillage. At the event, Sundance Institute will curate the industry's first Creative Tension, an immersive and engaging audience experience. More than 12 companies will also host an Inclusive Job Fair, welcoming CES attendees to learn about career opportunities in media, advertising and marketing. Details for the Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors and the Inclusive Job Fair are available at AdvancingDiversity.org and by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Ellen Holden contributed to this article.
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