What we've learned so far in our equity and diversity journey

Last year ZGM started our first-ever Equity and Diversity group. It's been an interesting journey of highs, lows, and continuous learning — but we're only getting started. Our E&D group has proven itself to be a necessity and will continue to be a big part of who we are.

Though there've been some hard conversations and learnings, the way that our team has stepped up has been an incredible highlight. Our group has been dedicated and passionate about the work. We’ve had regular meetings, important discussions, held an anti-racism training, and never lacked in engagement. 

However, I can also say that it hasn’t been easy. Not because we’ve had resistance or lack of alignment. Simply because this is a difficult journey. It’s not a social committee planning a Christmas party, it’s not a health and safety team assessing office hazards. This is a challenging topic fraught with systemic problems that go back beyond our agency, beyond modern-day advertising, and in many cases, beyond the birth of Canada.

This blog isn’t about systemic racism though (well not entirely anyway), this blog is about our journey towards being an anti-racist organization and bringing more equity and diversity to ZGM. I in no way shape or form have all the answers, but I want to share some of our lessons and stumbles in the hopes that it might help you along your path.

These are the top three lessons we’ve learnt in our journey so far

We bit off more than we could chew

We started this group with a lot of passion and dedication but it was too much. After our first meeting, we had a list of almost 15 things to accomplish. We created sub-committee upon sub-committee and worked on many initiatives. We further broke our initiatives down into three categories:

  • internal: anything that had to do with the operations and culture of the organization
  • external: anything that dealt with clients and communities
  • education: how we were going to continually learn and bring new thinking into the agency

The list, the sub-committees, the initiatives — they all led to numerous great ideas but little action. It was too much. We didn’t know where to start and we kept adding to the list without ever tackling it.

Coming back from the holiday and getting ready for our first meeting in January, my co-leader, Erika Navarra, and I had a hard look at the group and what we had accomplished. There were a couple of small wins, but nothing substantial. This led us to realize that we needed focus, cut down our list, bring attention to the most important areas, and work to accomplish something meaningful. We decided to focus all our attention on one key area that would have an impact and help us push forward with the other items on the list. This was education and training.

Common understanding has to be built, education comes first

From our small wins, we learnt something profound — everyone is coming at this topic from a different background, a different understanding, and that we can’t treat everyone the same in their learnings.

For some, equity and diversity is a big part of their life. They read books, watch films, stay informed, and are maybe part of a marginalized group themselves with their own lived experiences. However, for others, it’s not something they had been exposed to. 

It wasn’t because people were resistant or didn’t believe in it. No, it was because we lacked a common understanding at first. We took the excitement and passion of the group for granted and pushed forward initiatives without providing proper background and understanding.

This was perhaps our biggest learning, and it’s not so much an equity and diversity learning as it is an organizational change learning. When it comes to organizational change, you can’t just make it and hope for universal excitement or even adoption. You need to help people understand the change. This is also what helped us identify our one key area of focus–education and training. We felt that it was important to provide the entire team with a baseline, a common set of concepts and principles that we could reference as we started rolling out initiatives. This would be our foundation from which to build our program successfully and provide understanding for everyone.

I am very proud to say that we completed a three-module course with all 100 members of the ZGM staff in June. We worked with Dr. Farha Shariff from the University of Alberta to build a custom three-module program complete with homework and debrief/discussion sessions that would introduce our team to some of the most important concepts and topics in the field of equity and diversity.

I strongly believe this was the most important thing we could have done, and I’m proud that our team has completed this very important training. It’s education to help ZGM move forward on this journey, but it’s also education to help each department in the work they do. It’s education to help our team develop better, more diverse creative and strategies. It’s education to help us build a more equitable and diverse agency. 

There’s no end to this journey

Our mantra right from the start has always been progress over perfection. From day one, we weren’t perfect, and we know we haven’t yet made enough progress. But that’s never stopped us. We are dedicated to becoming a more diverse and equitable workplace, industry, community. Our education and training provided a good foundation, and we are building from there.

We know we need more education, more training, more action. As our client from the Hockey Diversity Alliance says, “this is a movement, not a moment.” At ZGM, we are dedicated to being part of that movement and not just speaking up during the moments. We are committed to continuing with education and training, we are committed to reviewing and changing our policies, we are committed to being more diverse and equitable. We are committed to bettering our industry and creating more work to showcase everyone, equitably.  

This journey has had its ups and downs and we know there are more to come. I hope that this blog has provided you with some good insights as you take this journey yourself or with your organization.

My name is Jordan Mair, and I am the co-leader of the ZGM Equity and Diversity group. If you are thinking about starting your own group or struggling to get things going, I would love to have a conversation and give you whatever insights I can–please feel free to reach out to me at Jordan.mair@zgm.ca or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Want to learn more? Here are some of our favourite diversity, equity, and inclusion resources:
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