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A Recession Puts DEI Initiatives in Danger. Don’t Let Them Lose Priority

13/12/2022
Editors
Los Angeles, USA
514
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The Den Editorial's senior video editor, Michael 'Middy' Ofori-Attah, on how economic downturn threatens diversity efforts and why the industry needs to keep pushing

A senior editor at The Den Editorial, Michael 'Middy' Ofori-Attah has been working in video editing for 13 years, initially brought in via an internship program after graduating from college. After shadowing a few editors, Middy applied to a TV station with a 5% mandate to hire BIPOC staff (before such abbreviations were even in use) and got his foot in the door as a young Black talent with no previous connections or access to the industry. However, after growing up in Toronto as a Ghanaian-Canadian, he learned upon arrival that the industry he had fallen in love with was not as representative as the rest of the relatively diverse city. Now that many markets in the industry, and people in countries around the world, face the incoming financial hardships of a recession, Middy explains that DEI programs - like the one he was assisted by over a decade ago - and their beneficiaries may be the first and most deeply affected by potential cost-cutting measures, as well as a reduced scope of focus for companies cutting budgets. He speaks to LBB about what's at stake for DEI initiatives in the looming economic downturn and how the industry can protect these valuable and necessary resources.



What does DEI mean? For those of you reading this who don’t know, DEI (Diversity Equity and Inclusion) is another way to describe programs and policies within the workplace that allows for representation of people who have disabilities, people of different cultures, sexual orientations, people of colour and people without access and resources.

Lately though, despite seeing diversity in advertising grow exponentially in the last years - as we’ve seen more agencies, brands, and production companies step up to make meaningful change - this initiative has felt more stagnant. We are approaching a recession, and we will likely see these initiatives fall by the wayside as our economic climate changes. The people who will be overlooked and underappreciated will be historically marginalised communities. Newer to the industry and lacking seniority and the depth of experience that only time can bring, they are more vulnerable to layoffs.

What’s at stake? A whole generation looking to build their careers and opportunities within the advertising world. The progress of the last five years could be erased. 

As People of Colour, we can often be seen as a mandate or opportunity to check off a box. Especially when we talk about numbers in an attempt to quantify the progress that we’re making. But it’s not just about the numbers. It’s also about what we all can gain when agencies (and production and post companies) staff people who can speak to the lived experience of the full spectrum of people we are creating ads for. 

What does that mean? Here is just one example: did you know Black people go fishing too? But do you see us fishing in ads or doing something unrelated to fashion or entertainment? People of Colour are far more dynamic than how we are portrayed in advertisements. A diverse creative team will naturally expand our shared understanding of what is possible, making us all more vital in the process. In this way, the push for diversity should be synonymous with the push for creativity and originality, challenging stagnant ideas and more fully representing the human experience.

Earlier this year, I worked with the Black@ team at Airbnb for Black History Month, and I remember feeling inspired and overwhelmed with joy to see a predominantly POC team led by a woman. The main focus of this piece was creating a commercial that honoured the history of Black travel and seeing how that playing a part in our lived experiences allows viewers to feel seen. The diversity in this spot is not surprising because it was Black History Month, but the impact that it had on the Black diaspora was substantial. Most recently, I had an opportunity to work with a creative agency, Kin, owned by Sophie Ozoux and Kwame Taylor-Hayford, who I worked alongside to edit Delta Air Lines' latest commercial, titled 'Faces of Travel'. The campaign was photographed by Seo Ju, and it definitely makes you feel warm inside because it exemplifies the world we live in. Seeing the lack of diversity within travel ads, stock photos, and stock video catalogues, Delta and Adobe partnered for this campaign to inspire change in these spaces. There is a photo collection from the commercial that is now available to the 3 million users on Adobe’s platform.

Being able to make a change in an industry full of nepotism will continue to connect people, cultures, and communities. But most importantly, producing commercials like this will allow for more representation in front and behind the lens. It is essential to show the next generation of creatives examples in positions, so they know that they are capable of these possibilities.

Significant change has been made, but we need to keep pushing. We need everyone across the board to band together because our consistent efforts will make this industry diverse - somewhere everyone feels safe, seen, and heard. It will make the ideas and the work stronger, bigger and more personal. Quite simply, it will make us all better.



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