Activators + Accountability
After the racial “awakening” of summer 2020, many U.S. agencies were asked to reflect and commit to change to cultivate a more equitable agency where the racial diversity representation was representative of society. As a result, PR agencies across the United States made commitments to increase racial diversity and set target percentages.
Yet, many organizations failed to meet their goals.
I joined Allison+Partners in late August 2021. During my first few weeks of mining documents and plans, I kept asking myself, “Where is the accountability structure?” Across interactions with senior-level leadership, I discovered they had a clear understanding that increasing diversity was important, but they had no clear direction about to how to make that happen.
As time passed, I met with mid-level and junior-level staff of color to understand their experiences, and the disconnect between senior leaders and junior-level staff became evident. Senior leadership wanted to increase racial diversity, while junior-level staff needed clarity on culture, career pathing and how to link their personal interests with client work.
With this disconnect in mind, I addressed senior leadership with these insights and highlighted that to become a more equitable agency, we will not focus solely on racial diversity numbers. Instead, we will identify how the organization currently created and facilitated barriers for racially minoritized groups and other minoritized groups (i.e., disabled and neurodivergent groups) and protected classes (i.e., veterans). To meet these aims, we would have to reflect and assess current practices and norms, and then boldly reimagine what our agency can become. Our reimagining process led us to the development of our six strategic intentions.
Developing an equity strategy is challenging, and the reason many organizations fail to start off with success is due to lack of accountability structures and mobilizing activators in the agency to drive the DEI strategy. At Allison+Partners, I worked with senior leadership to explain why accountability was critical to transforming our agency and what accountability can look like across the agency. That resulted in assigning senior leadership responsibility to each of our Employee Advocacy Groups to ensure senior leadership kept a pulse on the needs of each group.
Further, we developed a global strategy that embedded senior leadership into our existing and locally driven DEI committees across the globe. Lastly, we launched an extensive asynchronous and synchronous microaggressions training for the agency that required and cultivated our paradigm shift of both individual and collective accountability to ensure we do the necessary reflexive work to transform our agency into a more equitable one.
To achieve the paradigm shift and accountability frameworks, I identified activators in the agency. I define an activator as an individual who can get things done. They know the direct pathways to achieve a decision, the most functional pathways to communicate information and how to activate others. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are senior leaders, but instead, change makers.
When we launched our microaggressions training, A+P Partner and President, North America Anne Colaiacovo made calls to our general managers to ensure individuals met the established completion dates. This work entailed connecting with me daily to pull data on completion rates and identifying who needed support to complete their training. Activators are critical to equity work, because transforming an agency into a more equitable one is a collective responsibility and requires the agency to move across all fronts.
I share this information to highlight DEI initiatives will continue to fail if there are no accountability structures. We had to shift our paradigm toward a collective responsibility. Moreover, accountability frameworks serve as a reflexive tool to hold ourselves accountable for our mistakes, missed goals and general recalibration. Additionally, accountability frameworks need activators to ensure people understand what accountability looks like while ensuring we use correct communication pathways and tap the right people to check in on individuals who may need more support.
As we continue to see things differently at Allison+Partners, we will continue to do things differently to ensure we become a more equitable agency.
Jorge Alcaraz (he/him/his) is the Global Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Allison+Partners. Jorge leads the global DEI strategy, in collaboration with senior leadership and key stakeholders, to transform Allison+Partners into a more equitable agency. Simultaneously, Jorge is a PhD Candidate at UCLA in the Higher Education and Organizational Change program.