DDB’s new director of talent: ‘Nobody ever talks about generational diversity’

Diversity has become a hot topic in the ad industry, as executives wring their hands at how monochrome many agencies appear. The issue is particularly important thanks to demographic shifts and advertising’s twin talent crisis.

With that backdrop, Omnicom Group’s DDB North America has brought on Julius Dunn as director of talent. In his new role, Dunn will draw from his  experience as the industry liaison at the 4A’s as well as the founding director of Adversity, a nonprofit organization established to promote multiculturalism and diversity in creative media industries.

For Dunn, the key to solving the industry’s long struggle with diversity is a coordinated, sustained effort to tackle the issue. There will be no silver bullet, he said.

“The agency world was founded by men and without a conscious effort to address that unconscious bias; it is bound to stay an industry dominated by men,” Dunn warned.

Digiday spoke to Dunn on the issues he wants to tackle. What follows is condensed and light edited for clarity.

Why do you think the agency world isn’t diverse?
The issue lies in the fact that the industry continues to pursue isolated contingency groups in an effort to be more diverse when the definition of diversity is subjective. I think that the issue arises from an unconscious bias that people naturally have to be surrounded by people who are similar to them.

What is the biggest problem you’re trying to solve coming into this role?
Our industry traditionally has not been known to have cultural diversity or to promote women to positions of leadership. We are looking at what the intersections are between all the hallmarks of diversity, whether it is gender, race or sexual orientation and then trying to ground that in our legacy. We’re going to try our best to be proactive.

How is your standpoint going to be non-traditional?
Diversity today is a generational divide. People want to focus on the traditional pillars of what it means to be a diverse organization: gender equity, racial equality and sexual orientation. But nobody ever talks about generational diversity. Right now, we have three different generations in the workforce. Millennials are taking leadership positions. I really want to understand the things that connect them with one another rather than things that separate them.

What do you think is the best way to encourage diversity?
My overall approach will be to infuse diversity in everything that we do. I want to create a more inclusive environment that celebrates everybody’s freedom to be who they are. Our business is about people. Without having a diverse group of individuals working within our organization, we cannot authentically connect with the consumers. That is why it is important for us to embed the agenda of diversity and inclusion into the talent strategy.

And you think that will be enough to address the issue?
Creativity flourishes in an environment that allows you to be comfortable and be who you are. If you celebrate all the flavors within an organization and kind of put them into one stew, it helps realize the ultimate aim of connecting with the consumer market. Our organization needs to mirror the people our clients are trying to reach out to, and if not, then we need to address that.

What are some of the industries you think are worth looking at for inspiration?
Most industries have positions dedicated to the diversity question, which means no industry has got it quite right. If anything, we should look back at our own history. DDB specifically was built on the premise of diversity and inclusion. [DDB founder Bill] Bernbach was the first one to partner a copywriter and an art director in a room, which by chance was a female and a male. We’re still building on that legacy and looking for new ways to do that.

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