“How do you like America?”
I remember getting asked this question from the cashier every time I checked out at my neighborhood CVS as a teenager. It never offended me, but it always perplexed me. My last name was Olson, I was raised by a White mother and spoke perfect English. I felt like I was White (or as my other Chinese-American friends would say, “a twinkie”) and for as long as I can remember, it was a challenge to reconcile the way I perceived myself with the way the rest of the world seemed to. While I’ve never felt explicit hatred or racism, I’ve never entirely felt like I fit in either. Strangers at the grocery store would ask my Mom if my sister (also an adopted Chinese-American) was my “real” sister, and my friends would comment on my flat face. To this day, 9 out of 10 times when I get into an Uber, the driver will inevitably ask me, “what are you?”
I am an American.
With the #BLM movement gaining momentum over the last few weeks, I’ve fallen silent. I’ve listened. I’ve learned. I’ve reflected. As a woman of color, I’ve experienced my own microaggressions and stereotypes – a small fraction of what black men and women experience every day. I’ve struggled to find the balance between facing my own identity and experiences with racism, and maintaining the space and focus on important conversations around systemic racism and the injustices faced by black men and women.
The connective thread existing between #BLM, myself, and the myriad of ways in which one human may appear to differ from the next at first glance, is this: We are all American. This is America and America is changing – for the better.
My story is one small square in a patchwork of stories – each with different heritages, ethnicities, genders and struggles. I am proud of who I am, where I come from and the unique experience I bring to the table as we reimagine a new world on the other side of this health, economic and social crisis.
It is no longer an option to sit on the sidelines as spectators. We cannot stay silent. We’ve each been called upon to help rebuild the world and protect the health and safety of our families, friends and neighbors. This responsibility seeps into every aspect of our lives, including our work. We, as marketers in this time and place, need to create work reflective of the world we are living in and the future we want to help create. As highlighted in a recent study by the Harris Poll, 58% of Americans said that companies should incorporate their views into advertising.
Every business is different, thus their approach to these issues needs to authentically align with their core mission. Some companies have done this better than others. One corporate response that stands out in particular is Airbnb’s Project Lighthouse, an initiative geared towards identifying when and where discrimination takes place on their platform and creating new features and policies addressing those inequalities. This resonates deeply with me as it is such an authentic extension of Airbnb’s core mission to “help create a world where you can belong anywhere and where people can live in a place, instead of just traveling to it.”
That being said, true change also must take place from the inside out. While it is important for companies to create and sell products that meet the need for representation, there is also a fundamental transformation that needs to take place within the board rooms, corporate structures and operations of every company. Upon further examination, the Harris Poll also revealed that 43% of Americans say companies have not done enough to increase diversity in their leadership and nearly a third (28%) say their employer has not made meaningful efforts internally to address racial inequality.
At the Stagwell Group, we are committed to meaningful, sustainable social change within our portfolio companies as well as in the work we produce.
It has been a heavy, heartfelt few months of reflection and an important reminder for all of us to re-evaluate ourselves, our priorities and what side of history we want to stand on. I am committed to listening, to learning and to doing— and I’m proud to be part of a company that empowers me to embrace this authenticity in every aspect of my life. At the Stagwell Group, we are committed to meaningful, sustainable social change within our portfolio companies as well as in the work we produce. I am proud to be a member of our DEI initiative and inspire change across five core pillars:
1. Recruiting: identifying diverse talent
2. Hiring: building a pipeline of diverse candidates to fill open roles
3. Retention and Culture: providing equal opportunities for professional development and practices for enabling an inclusive workforce with protocols for managing and addressing any issues that may arise across our own teams, partners and clients
4. Supplier Diversity: ensuring third party suppliers are sourced from BIPOC-led businesses
5. Our Work: celebrating and lifting up client work that embodies our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion
The demand for transparent, transcendent, ethical practices continues to emerge at the forefront of business. It is not enough for companies to simply turn a profit. They need to stand for something greater than the bottom line and be authentic in their follow-through to their employees, customers and communities. I, for one, cannot wait to be a part of this revolution and help create a stronger company, a better community and a more inclusive America.