Last year, we, like so many agencies and businesses across the country, committed to do better in the name of diversity, equality, inclusion, and belonging. Since then, these topics have become central to our conversations with each other, with clients, and with ourselves. These conversations are sparking growth in our minds and in our actions, and we have a hint of the beauty that is to come. I know that for myself and other AORians, we want to do better: not just to say we understand and claim change needs to happen, but to be a part of that change. To bring momentum to the movement. To band together with people who have felt the weight of inaction for so long and to find where we ourselves exist within the problem. There are no quick solutions in this ongoing journey, but we’re on board and full steam ahead.
Most of the time, our actions towards change have felt small in comparison to the big change that needs to happen. We have often asked ourselves, how can we be better partners? How can we successfully take action when our job is first and foremost to listen and amplify? What does action look like as a company compared to individually, and where do the two intersect? At what point does our commitment to amplify and elevate equate to just taking back the mic?
For me, the seemingly small internal changes are where we can create the biggest and truest impact right now. Speaking to clients openly and frankly about audience bases and who they’re considering or not considering has ignited conversation on both sides of the partnership. We have dug layers deeper into racial, gender, language, and generational differences where, before, the surface of these issues felt like “enough”. We welcome discussion and education around different ways to word politically varying or uncomfortable topics, rather than live in a space of fear over saying the wrong thing.
Foundational in our journey is an actionable Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging movement inspired partly by the open letter from 600 & Rising. We call our initiative Thrive. We have worked this into our everyday, a cornerstone that we can all rally around to ensure that every action we take, every decision we make, is propelled from this spot.
Thrive is, in essence, built on the same principles that we consider most important to our company: putting people first. Thrive recognizes that we can do more to live up to that standard.
What does Diversity, Equality, Inclusion, and Belonging mean to us? Personally, I believe this is a complex topic with the ability to affect big change. AOR, alongside other companies, has the position and resources to create impact in unique ways, both inside and outside of our doors. I define Thrive as a platform where this growth can begin and evolve.
Understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual similarities and differences.
Having equal access to opportunities and resources — position, raises, training, education, mentoring — and contributing fully to the organization’s success.
Feeling welcomed, respected, supported, and valued as a team member. Inclusion is a two-way accountability; each person must grant and accept inclusion from others.
Feeling secure and supported — emotionally and physically — as well as recognized and valued for uniqueness as a result of having a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group or place.
Defining these actions is indeed a small step, but an important one that helps us work with unity and intention. Action starts with our Thrive approach: benchmarking our strengths and weaknesses, defining where and how to evolve, establishing living and breathing policies, and initiating actionable changes. What does actionable change look like? For us, we’re focusing on four key areas:
- Education: We were able to work with the incredible people at Culture Energized to gain understanding and communication skills around diversity issues, and had the ability to ask tough, sometimes uncomfortable questions to open our minds. Moving forward, we’re planning interactive trainings for current and future AORians.
- Culture: We meet bi-monthly to talk about the continued integration of our Thrive principles, articles we’ve found, ideas we’ve had, and more.
- Recruiting + Representation: We actively recruit on various platforms that allow for a more diverse candidate pool and have revised our hiring process to help eliminate unconscious bias. When working with partners, we strive to consider inclusivity at every step.
- Our Work: We’ve integrated a diversity prompt into our creative briefs to ensure that the topic is a part of every project. We look to offer diverse representation through stock sources and talent, and we work with various partners to gain multiple perspectives.
As the shifts we’ve made become ingrained and habitual, I look forward to bigger, faster transformations in the agency world and beyond. In the end, the power is in each of us to really mobilize this cultural shift. I am proud to be part of a team of AORians who value these beliefs and who are individually driven to realize this change. Here are some words from a few AORians on why they value these initiatives:
Working for an agency that puts people first is why I am at AOR. But it is more than just what we do for our staff, putting people first means all people. It is not a one and done solution but an evolution. I am proud to be a part of making real change in how we think, operate and continually do better for ourselves and the clients and communities we serve.
—Kathleen, Project Manager
The feeling of belonging and inclusion in a company’s culture is as important as the work itself. I am grateful to feel so connected to my AOR family but that’s not something I should be “lucky” to feel. Every person we recruit, employ, or interact with needs to feel that same inclusion and the truth is that’s really hard. I’m happy to have Thrive to reflect on how we feel as current AORians and be humble enough to recognize our privileges. We have so much room to educate ourselves and grow, just as the rest of our country does, and Thrive is a beautiful start.
—Alex, Project Manager
The majority of what we do relies on communication and emotional connection. With more people from differing perspectives in the conversation, we can both broaden our reach and the types of connections we make.
Personally, I want people to be included. No one wants to feel marginalized, like they can’t contribute or their ideas don’t matter. It’s something that’s always been part of our culture. “Best idea wins. Doesn’t matter who it comes from.” That’s a good start, but there has been a glaring racial and cultural homogeneity in the agency—and the industry as a whole—which does limit the way we think and, by extension, the kind of work we can do.
—Tom, Associate Creative Director
It’s important to me to continue learning and educating myself.
—Elena, Director of Client Services
I value AOR prioritizing and developing a Thrive program because I believe good creative comes from the different. Different minds, different backgrounds, different perspectives and if we didn’t have that everything would be bland. We need diversity and inclusion to make the world a better, more creative place.
Everyone has a story to tell and we need to be listening to as many of them as possible — not just those who’ve notoriously had the privilege to be heard. Continuing to push ourselves to prioritize diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, both personally and as an agency, is vital to changing our world’s current narrative and make room for all people. For me that means doing things outside of work to learn about those different from myself or my world, sharing what I find inspiring and educational, and always working hard to be welcoming, open, approachable, and honest about my own story and self in order to help others feel they can as well.
—Leah, Senior Copywriter
I value the work we’re doing in the space and our Thrive initiative and see the positive impact working towards living our values has in our AOR community. It further connects our human side to our work and challenges us to ask questions and dig deeper. It’s rooted in acceptance, respect and care, which reflects how we approach each other and our work. It’s fueled by our collective desire to “do better”.
I’m excited to be able to develop the Thrive program and delighted to see it embraced at AOR. Not all agencies are comfortable with taking on these issues. And, these issues certainly are just as relevant for small agencies as they are for large agencies, holding companies and brands. Diversity strengthens us, expands our horizons, challenges our blind spots, deepens our bonds, and connects us to a greater sense of community. Our work, our people, and our clients are better for it. We want everyone to feel seen and heard, to experience true belonging through our shared values and our unique differences, to be celebrated in their identity, and to live out their full potential. And that is what we are building. A culture where everyone can thrive.
—Andrea, Creative Director
Alyssa has a passion for thoughtful website design and development, and an abnormal love for data. Without her, we wouldn’t be able to marry beautiful interfaces with sharp strategies.
Alyssa has 5+ years experience with traditional and digital design. She holds a B.F.A. in Graphic Design with a Business Entrepreneurship certificate from the University of Iowa.