An Exclusive Interview with Tiffany Edwards, Engagement and Inclusion Director at Droga5.

As D&I leaders, many of us know that D&I departments alone can’t move the needle on accelerating diversity or increasing inclusion and belonging.

Diversity issues aren’t caused by just one person. They’re caused by the actions of many.

This is why to build a truly inclusive culture where diverse teams can thrive, you have to make D&I a company-wide priority and give every person in your organization the tools to be more inclusive every day.

In this interview, we spoke with the brilliant Tiffany Edwards, Engagement and Inclusion Director at Droga5 – the award-winning creative agency responsible for producing brilliant and representative ad campaigns for everyone from Game of Thrones to The New York Times to Prudential.

In this interview, you’ll learn:

  • How to get your leaders to recognize and commit to diversity
  • The power of digital in creating lasting change
  • How to make courageous conversations a habit

Listen in above (cc available), or read below the transcript of our interview with Tiffany Edwards. You can also listen on SpotifyiTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.

FIONA: Welcome back to Inclusion Works. I’m your host Fiona Young and I run the diversity inclusion and belonging practice at Hive Learning, the collaborative learning app for enterprises. Our guest today is Tiffany Edwards, engagement and inclusion director at Droga5, the award-winning creative agency responsible for producing brilliant and representative ad campaigns. For everyone from Game of Thrones, to the New York Times to Prudential. Tiffany has been influential in making the ad industry a more diverse and inclusive place.

Before joining Droga5, she was the first foundation and inclusion manager for The Advertising Club of New York, where she helped develop their diversity program, I’m part valued advertising professionals around a movement to make diversity a priority. I’ve been privileged to get to know Tiffany over the past few months as she and her team worked with Hive Learning to sustain a program to encourage courageous conversations around race and diverse thinking at Droga5.

The whole Hive team has been blown away by her energy and innovative thinking on how to build inclusion which is why I’m so excited to have her here today. Welcome Tiffany.

TIFFANY: Hi. I am so glad to be joining you. Thanks again for having me.

FIONA: Thank you. Can you start by telling us a bit more about your role at Droga5 and what you’re trying to achieve?

TIFFANY: Absolutely. So, I think as you mentioned in my bio, I am Droga5 first diversity leader. My official title is engagement and inclusion director and my entire role here at Droga5 is built around doing everything we can to make sure that diversity and inclusion are a part of our organization’s DNA. And we mean that from every level of our culture and the communities that we build internally, to the employee experience throughout their full lifecycle from what their experience is like when we recruit them to what their experience is when they step in the building, what their growth and kind of trajectory here at Droga5 looks like even to the day they exit. We want to make sure that they feel included, heard and know how proud we are to have them here.

And then finally the last and most important piece for us is also making sure that diversity and inclusion become a part of our workflow and for us at Droga5 diversity is an ongoing journey. It’s not, you know what check the box a problem to solve and then we walk away from it. It’s something that we want to become a part of the way we work as an organization so that in the future there’s never a question about how it comes to life. And so that’s what my work here is focused around.

FIONA: Before we get into more of that work, I’d love to ask you something that we ask all of our guests on Inclusion Works. Can you tell us what personal experiences made you aware of inclusion and diversity issues and led to your work at Droga5?

TIFFANY: Absolutely. So, I don’t want to say how many years ago. I don’t age myself, but I started my career at an organization called The One Club for Art & Copy and while I was there, I was introduced to the diversity world through an organization called ADCOLOR. So the one, just to back up for a moment, the One Club does an advertising award show called The One Show and I was working on that award show and I went to a lot of those events and I fell in love with the advertising industry kind of by mistake but  I absolutely fell in love with what it stood for, the people, the creativity but the one thing I found is that I often was the only woman and specifically the only woman of color in large rooms and so you know I often wondered where the people of color and where the women were.

And so when I discovered the world of ADCOLOR, it kind of answered that question. It was this amazing collective and gathering of all of these amazing you know not only professionals of color, but also professionals of all backgrounds, who you know were really passionate about diversity and helping to diversify the industry, and so it was through my entry into the world of ADCOLOR that I really found my passion and kind of my drive to help answer the question, where are the people of color in advertising and to figure out how to help them discover us and what I would have done when I was a student if I had known advertising was an option before I started my career.

And so that’s the ethos that led to a lot of the programming that I created myself was you know again what would young Tiffany have done if she had known she could have gone into advertising when she was 14,15 looking at her college degree and that’s kind of was the beginning driver of how I entered the diversity conversation.

FIONA: That’s brilliant. So I read a quote of yours in Ad Age which I loved and I wanted to share with our listeners. So you said,

“No one working in diversity needs to be convinced of the business case, but leaders need to stop leaving all the diversity and inclusion work to the people with diversity and inclusion in their titles.”

I totally agree with you here. But I’ve seen in so many organizations that it’s still the case that D&I is just something that HR does over there. Can you share a bit more of your thoughts on why this is a barrier to progress?

TIFFANY: Absolutely. So to kind of just clarify the quote. I think that this conversation about diversity has been ongoing for literally decades now and is even you know in the past the most recent 10 years been a hot-button topic. So at this point if you don’t know why diversity is important and what the case for diversity is and it’s kind of an active denial and active choice not to engage, but moving beyond that, diversity is not an issue, diversity issues I should say in our industry were not caused by one person. They are caused by the actions of many and therefore you can’t look to one person to adjust and fix an entire organization.

It has to be something that everyone from the C-level suite down to the most junior level employee is taking apart in and engaging it and if it’s not an open ongoing process and an open and ongoing conversation throughout the organization, there are going to be little pockets of change but there’s going to be nothing that’s long-term and sustainable in the company you’re working for or in the industry. And so again not only kind of taking diversity and burying it, it’s another HR policy which a lot of people tend to glance over is like okay yes it’s compliance and you know I think what HR does is hugely important but when this is such a specific issue that is driven by human behavior, it needs to be changed by shifting human behavior. It has to become something that is central to the entire organization to really have a deeper impact.

FIONA: Yes, I totally agree. You need that wholesale organizational buy-in and response and I’m wondering what are some of the most powerful tactics you’ve used or you’ve seen to get a whole organization to take action and to really get behind this to build a culture of inclusion.

TIFFANY: So I must say that when it comes to getting leaders to be my partners and co-conspirators in this work at Droga5, I’ve been so very lucky because basically from day one of stepping into the building I’ve had our founder David Droga, our CEO Sarah Thompson and our COO Susie Nam stand beside me and say whatever you need, whenever you need and just let us know we will back you in this conversation.

I think they were so amazing and kind of transparent and honest in the beginning about they did and didn’t know, but they also were willing to dive deep into their personal connection to the conversation and then on the flip side make the rest of the organization aware that this is just as important at Droga5 as any other business imperative.

And so through their support we then you know went out to the rest of the leadership and department heads and senior-level executives in the building and said this is a new goal for the agency. This is something that is going to be embedded into the way we work and we need all of you on board.

And so together we all went through a series of trainings, workshops. We had some very you know kind of private and candid conversations and did all of the work together that we needed to do to really make sure that they were equipped and ready to start leading alongside me in the organization around diversity. And so that’s been such an impactful and amazing experience.

FIONA: I’m just curious what made you say that we need to start with race?

TIFFANY: Absolutely. So actually Glenn Singleton has taught me so much. I’ve gone through about five of his sessions and I will keep going through them and each time I go through them I learn more, but his stance and I absolutely agree is that race is still the baseline issue that affects most of this country and a lot of countries outside of America as well. So very specifically I have been able to you know just watch, research and observe what’s been happening in our industry and the reality is that when because we’re so far behind on races and Industry, any movements around diversity that we put into place that don’t consider race as the baseline tend to leave people out of the conversation and out of the progress that happens.

So a perfect example is you know the movement for gender parity, which is hugely important. We need women as leaders. We need women throughout the organization. We need women in the departments that they’re not represented in but because the beginning of that conversation didn’t have a baseline as race. The reality is that the majority of the women now that have moved into these roles; senior roles, creative roles, are white women and you see a lot less African-American women, Hispanic women, you know women of different backgrounds and races across the board tend to unintentionally get left out of that progress, and so that’s one example.

Another can be a little bit more historic and you know something that’s been deep-rooted in our country is the LGBTQIA movement. Again you know there have been complaints throughout the community that a lot of the conversations and movements that have happened have left you know trans queer people of color out of the conversation and it’s a much more difficult path and journey for them.

And so again, all of those examples just show us why it’s so important to include race as the baseline and then you know we can address as many of the diversity aspects as we want but without race we are going to leave a whole subset of people out.

FIONA: I agree and it reminds me of something that Aubrey Blanche from Atlassian said on this podcast before about how unfortunately D&I is sort of has been led by what she’s called corporate white feminism and I think it’s you can really draw so many parallels between the first wave and second-wave feminism and the kind of corporate D&I movement because I think it is quite fractured along different demographic lines and I think a lot of organizations and certainly in the UK that I’ve seen are very focused on gender at the expense of race. At the expense of LGBT, disability and all other dimensions of diversity and I think it’s such a shame.

So it’s really interesting to hear your story and also to hear the amazing impact that you’ve made on the organization through courageous conversations. So I want to pick that up a little bit. So we’ve been working together this year on courageous conversations just on the digital side of it, right. So I know you’ve worked closely with Glenn Singleton to develop that training and to launch that kind of face-to-face side in your business. But it’s been a joint collaborating on the digital piece of it and getting to see your super innovative approach on it. So can you tell us what makes you really excited about digital right, the digital element to drive Inclusion forward and how do you think it can be used to build up those kind of those tiny habits and the behavior change that you talked about earlier.

TIFFANY: Absolutely. So I think what excites me so much about this experience of building this module in partnership with Hive and with Glenn has been really the goal of all of this was to figure out how to extend the learnings and kind of almost the magic. It really is a magic that happens in the room and the training beyond those two days because what happens is you do this hugely impacting training. It changes the way you look at everything, you know the way you look at race, the way you engage with the people in your life and the people in your professional career and the people around you and then as with any you know other kind of reality in our lives, other things start trickling in. Work it’s busy. Life picks up and over time the impact fades.

And so you know the real goal for building this module alongside you guys was how do we take all of the amazing learnings content tools that Glenn provided us within the training and put it in a format that allows people to re-engage with the conversation whenever they need to pull the tools, whenever they need them, and also to start tying it to the newer conversations coming up about diversity. What articles, what content, what videos that Glenn taught us, that then can always find ways to tie our employees back to the learnings and experience they had with Glenn when they trained with them earlier in 2019.

And so I think in general the interesting shift that digital learning brings to the diversity work that we’re doing is that it allows the content and the tools and the learnings to be on-demand for our employees. Sometimes when you train, you get so much information thrown at you that you can’t even begin to fathom how you would use in a day to day life.

So to be in a specific situation maybe in a meeting where you want to talk about race but you can’t think of the proper language or you’re having a difficult discussion and you can’t remember what the steps were that Glenn provided to kind of mitigate that difficult conversation or be a deep thinker. You can pause, take a moment and log into your Hive app and find the tools, and so that’s what really intrigues me about using this as a way to extend what Glenn had so gracefully provided us at the beginning of the year.

FIONA: Yes and I love like what you said about how the impact fades over time and also you know being able to use this day-to-day which I mean obviously I won’t geek out too long here, I run on content, so I’m like obsessed with thinking about how we can build that experience and you know and give people that kind of little and often learning rather than you know dive in all at once and then it’s kind of a one-and-done or it’s something that you do just once a year or trying to make it every day and trying to kind of pull people into it through a conversation rather than pushing right and saying it’s mandatory or you must do this or you know you’re not going to get your bonus this year if you don’t or those sorts of kind of hard lines, I think that in some more compliance-based learning that you find.

So I am curious to know what role has the pure learning or kind of collaborative aspect, the social aspects of the Hive digital platform had in this program because obviously it is about courageous conversations, right. So how has the digital helped carry this on or you know have you found people are able to be quite open and honest digitally as well as the face to face?

TIFFANY: It’s an interesting mix and it’s something you know just to be 100% transparent. It’s something that we’re actually learning to navigate as we go along. There’s something I talk a lot with your team about which is psychological safety and so there is this kind of psychological safety around you know talking about race that I think people are still building and developing and so while posting publicly an app you know their deepest darkest thoughts about race is not something that they will do unprovoked.

What I am finding is that they are engaging with the content and really finding ways to tap into and refer back to again the learnings in the session that we gave them. Another interesting part that we found about you know using the app is that we were able to group people by department to really engage in the content in a way that ties directly back to their work.

And why that’s important is because when we do courageous conversations about race training, we purposely mix up the seating and assign people seats next to people who they probably never spoke to more than five minutes and it’s because we wanted to a big part of the training is getting people to engage with people who are different from them but also partially strangers to them, even though we all know each other from the workspace to really kind of deepen that engagement and not just you know have friends kind of having a conversation together.

And so a lot of people didn’t get to sit with their direct colleagues in the training and so then to be able to use Hive to bring them all back together, so the entire creative department is in one module together. Our account department is in a module together and then allow them to kind of come back with their shared knowledge and have conversations in that smaller space is something that we found intriguing and you know people are starting to tap into it a bit more.

FIONA: Yes, that’s really interesting. I think that it’s probably important with that digital, obviously, it’s harder to have the courageous conversations digitally. So it’s probably quite nice having more of a sense of safety and as though you really do know quite well the other people who are in that digital space with you and also I guess building the shared understanding together even if you didn’t take the face-to-face together.

TIFFANY: Absolutely and another interesting part actually oddly enough is that the digital space is encouraging people to engage more in person. And so again you know you’re in a group with your entire department and your colleagues and maybe there’s something that you wouldn’t want to comment on directly in the app, but you want to go talk to someone about it.

And so we found that people are actually having more in-person conversations about the content they’re seeing in the app as well which is a very interesting outcome that we hadn’t considered.

FIONA: I love that and that is something actually that I’ve heard from all of our clients who were in the D&I space is it sort of like you know we had one of our clients say to us like people are pulling me over in the hallway. I can’t get away from this and we love it, but we also hate it because it’s like wait a second we don’t have data on that you know, we’re in tech business, we want the data [laughs]

TIFFANY: Everybody loves getting number.

FIONA: It’s like evidence of building a movement though around this courageous conversations program, which is just incredible to hear. So thank you so much for sharing a bit about it and also entertaining my sort of geeky content in digital questions.

TIFFANY: Of course.

FIONA: So I want to ask you one final question which is what is one simple thing that anyone could do this week to build inclusion in their workplace?

TIFFANY: There are so many things, but I’ll name a few. Probably the easiest and the most low-hanging fruit is go have a conversation with someone who’s different from you that you’ve never engaged what’s beyond working with them. That may sound like such a simple and little thing but again this is about human connection getting to know someone’s experience in their journey beyond what you know of them in the workplace. Modeling that behavior can really make a big difference. Another piece of advice I give for employees is go talk to a manager you trust or you know your direct manager about what the organization’s diversity goals are. Ask them what the goals are? What they’re working towards? What the plans are for the future? And if they can’t answer it, then kind of challenge them to go find out and come back to you again just opening up the conversation about diversity and inclusion and letting leaders know that it’s something that’s important to you and that you’re thinking about. It’s something that can really really start having an impact and a ripple effect especially if you get other peers and colleagues to do it as well.

Another piece of advice to give is to go and start doing your own research. Go listen to a podcast like Still Processing or 2 Dope Queens is a fun one that you know kind of touches upon cultural moments but without being too heavy. Mixed Company is another amazing podcast that is actually very focused on our industry here in advertising. There are also some really great newsletters. New York Times is doing some amazing coverage on race. There’s the raceAhead newsletter that is done by Fortune that I get into my inbox every week. You can do a Google alert on diversity and inclusion.

I think especially if you’re not a diverse person, really kind of getting that baseline knowledge and understanding on your own before you go to one of your colleagues of color and start asking questions, I think will really show kind of your interest in learning more and engaging in the content. And so those are all three simple ways that you can really start doing something different today to see an impact in the way you think about diversity and the way you act around diversity and hopefully if you can take that behavior and then spread that mindset on to your colleagues, as well I think that you’ll start seeing the ripples.

FIONA: That is brilliant. Thank you so much, Tiffany. I learned a couple, I was just jotting down a couple of those newsletters that I’m actually not subscribed to yet. So thank you so much [crosstalk] I am a huge fan of the New York Times race-related newsletter, so I’ll definitely take a look at that too.

TIFFANY: And I will too also because they’re our client, but they just do amazing work. They really do in the 1619 project.

FIONA: Well thank you so much for sharing those insights with us and I’m sure there’s a lot for our listeners to take away from this session. If anyone listening wants to stay connected with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?

TIFFANY: They can find me on LinkedIn. I know that sounds so cheesy but that is you know the best way to get me. I answer my emails in my inbox at least every day, if not every other day and I love connecting with new people across the industry and hearing about you know what they’re doing, and you know even ways that we can collaborate.

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An Exclusive Interview with Tiffany Edwards, Engagement and Inclusion Director at Droga5.

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