I’ve always been a creative person. From drawing my favorite 80’s cartoons as a child in the Dominican Republic to becoming an award-winning designer, creativity has always been a part of my DNA. While I am living proof of the American dream, the journey has been bittersweet, to say the least. As an Afro-Latino immigrant that moved to the United States at age ten, I quickly learned that braving New England winters and mastering the English language were the least of my worries. Being both Black and Latino, I’ve experienced my share of obstacles and microaggressions that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) individuals encounter in this country, both inside and outside the workplace.

Throughout my career, I’ve often been the only person of color on my team, department, and, on occasion, within the entire company. I sometimes wondered, as I’m sure other BIPOC individuals do, if I was actually hired for my talent or was just another token hire (someone that is hired from underrepresented groups to give the appearance of corporate diversity). Unfortunately, in my twenty years of experience in design not much has changed. As a mentor to young Black designers today, I still hear the same struggles and frustrations that I personally experienced at the beginning of my career. In my opinion, these continuing struggles are the result of a lack of representation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black or African Americans account for only 9.4 percent of all workers employed in advertising and public relations. To be more exact, only 3% of professional designers identify as Black.

Only 3% of professional designers identify as Black.

Bureau of Labor Statistics

At the beginning of my career, I kept silent and accepted all of the inequalities I encountered in order to be in the same room as my peers. However, being in the same room is not enough. Organizations, including corporations, agencies, and brands, must not only hire diverse talent into their creative and leadership teams, but they must also change their policies to cultivate BIPOC employees and help them flourish professionally.

You may wonder why this is important. We’ve recently witnessed organizations release harmful, racist advertisements and products that clearly reflect a lack of internal BIPOC representation, such as H&M’s ‘coolest monkey’ hoodie or Gucci’s blackface sweater, to name a few. These poorly consulted campaigns not only perpetuated negative stereotypes of people of color but also generated a negative response from consumers. In this sense, the lack of racial diversity in American advertising can create significant consumer backlash and hurt future financial growth.

America is diverse.

The recent 2020 Census results depict dramatic shifts in minority demographic growth, especially in stand-alone Black, Hispanic, and Asian populations (6%, 23%, and 36% respectively). In addition, multiracial identification grew to 10% of the population (34 million people), and the combined population of those who identified as Black or Black and another race grew the entire Black demographic by 89%. With 13% of individuals in the U.S. identifying as Black and 10% identifying as multiracial, brands and agencies alike need to realign their hiring practices and their overall DE&I (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) strategies.

Diversity creates better outcomes for companies.

2017 study from the American Psychological Association shows that teams that are more diverse are both smarter and more creative. Innovation is driven by the need to change the status quo and having the right mix of diversity within your brand’s team can stimulate new ideas, increase revenues, and establish meaningful relationships with customers.

Teams that are more diverse are both smarter and more creative.

Did you know that millennial and Gen-Z consumers are more likely to support brands that understand and connect with their respective cultures? 3 out of 4 Black millennials say that they’re more likely to consider a brand that positively reflects Black culture. Without the right people on your team that understand and are part of your core audience, your organization can miss opportunities to create lasting connections and lose relevance.

How To Attract, Hire, and Retain Black Creatives: A 5-Step Strategy.

Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

1. Build relationships and recruit from diverse higher education institutions.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution.”

In order to establish a lasting change in diverse hiring practices, organizations must look outside their “core school list” and recruit from diverse higher education institutions, such as historically Black colleges or universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), and other BIPOC institutions. HBCUs produce almost 20% of all African American graduates. As of 2019, 29% of the Black adults aged 25–29 hold a bachelor’s degree and 40% hold an associate’s degree.

It’s important to mention that diversity recruitment should never be a one-off event. Recruiters need to build trust and partner with BIPOC student groups locally and across the country. This can be achieved through:

  • Making introductions to BIPOC student and professional groups, such as HBCU Connect, the National Society of Black EngineersAIGA Unidos, the NAAAP, and other similar organizations
  • Participating at local and nationwide university career fairs
  • Hosting in-person events, online workshops, or virtual meetups
  • Leading by example, hiring BIPOC talent and having other BIPOC graduates share their experiences

A great example of this is IBM’s partnership with Texas State University’s Communication Design program and their most recent two-day virtual panel, “The State of Black Design”, a conference dedicated to increasing the employment of Black professionals in the design space.

2. Maintain fair pay standards for BIPOC employees and interns.

It should be understood that every person hired in your organization should be paid fairly, however, this is not always the case. Fair pay is critical to attracting and retaining BIPOC talent within your organization, whether they are an intern or an executive on your C-suite.

According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success and the U.S Department of Education, “33 percent of higher education students today are the first in their family to attend college.” Many of these first-generation college graduates come from BIPOC backgrounds and do not have the financial means to take on unpaid internships. By removing the dated practice of unpaid internships, organizations can expand their talent pool to a wider, more diverse group of qualified students. In return, BIPOC students can have more opportunities to gain the essential experience needed to further their careers without having to worry about meeting their basic financial needs, such as paying rent!

Gender and racial wage gaps are still a critical problem facing BIPOC employees across all industries in the United States. The Center For American Progress (CAP) reports that Black women on average earn $.62 for every $1 a White man earns, and Hispanic women earn $.54 for every $1. Setting fair pay standards across your company allows ALL employees to feel valued, encouraging a healthy and positive work environment.

3. Optimize your HR + DE&I strategy to focus on diversity.

Hiring diverse talent isn’t enough to maintain BIPOC employees. Your current HR and DE&I policies must be updated to promote diversity by removing biased hiring practices, encouraging acceptance, and boosting overall employee morale. Here are a few ways you can optimize your HR + DE&I strategy:

  • Review your organization’s current HR guidelines. Do your current HR policies recognize non-mainstream religious holidays or encourage employees to get involved with the local community? Do they help employees feel safe and empowered? Inclusion is critical to your DE&I strategy as it helps employees feel seen and can help uplift the voices of the communities they represent.
  • Promote diversity through active BIPOC recruiters and interviewers. If your organization’s goal is to attract more BIPOC talent, consider reaching out to your current BIPOC employees to serve as brand ambassadors for your new DE&I Strategy (with proper compensation, of course). A familiar face goes a long way and BIPOC job seekers actively seek companies that positively promote diversity. According to Glassdoor, 41% of Black job seekers would not consider applying to a company that demonstrated a lack of diversity within their workplace.
  • Set goals throughout your company’s DE&I journey. What percentage of your team consists of BIPOC employees? How many are women? A great example of a brand establishing an optimized HR + DE&I strategy is the Colgate brand. Every year, Colgate publishes an annual report that shows its progression of gender and racial inclusivity, sets new goals, and provides updates on its BIPOC leadership and initiatives.

4. Create opportunities to help BIPOC and first-generation college graduates succeed.

Start a mentorship program for interns, recent grads, and new hires. A recent Pew Research Center study shows that first-generation college graduates lag substantially both career-wise and financial-wise in comparison to second-generation and beyond college graduates. Implementing a company mentorship program can help first-generation college graduates with:

  • Understanding the company culture and corporate values
  • Understanding HR benefit programs, such as 401K, HSA, and others
  • Learning how to promote their voice and promoting ideas beneficial to the company
  • Identifying short-term and long-term goals for professional success and advancement

Provide continued education and training opportunities for all employees. Continued education is a great way to not only help retain talent but also drive creativity and innovation within each respective department. It also gives the opportunity for BIPOC employees to earn higher salaries and get promoted within the company, helping bridge the wealth gap within the country.

5. Encourage remote work.

A recent opinion piece by Cydney H. Dupree in The Hill, famously states, “Black employees will thrive with remote work — it’s anti-racist.” In fact, a recent Slack survey found that 97% of Black knowledge workers want the future of the office to be remote or hybrid. Similarly, a survey from Fishbowl states that 35% of Black professionals (including women and Gen-Z) say remote work is helping their potential for career advancement, compared to 27% of non-Black professionals. Some of the benefits of remote work for BIPOC employees include:

  • A decrease in experienced microaggressions
  • More opportunities for work, as jobs are no longer location-based
  • Improved job training, mentorship programs, and employee morale opportunities
  • Flexibility in work hours — leaving time for personal goals and obligations

As I write this and reflect on my own experiences, I can only imagine how far my career would have progressed if I had been provided with the necessary DE&I resources and support from the start. However, in writing this, I realize that, while I took a different path, my voice and experiences can positively impact future BIPOC designers and creatives. Remember, innovation and creativity flourish when people of diverse backgrounds, racial groups, religions, genders, and beliefs come together for a common goal. And we all work better when we have a seat at the table and a voice that’s empowered to speak new ideas.