TAPPING INTO DIVERSE & AUTHENTIC TALENT: BUILD A CULTURE OF MENTORSHIP
Four Strategies to Shape the Next Generation of Fearless Marketers
By: Luisa Acosta
Luisa Acosta is the Managing Partner at The 360 Agency, an independent Latina-and Black-owned agency headquartered in Los Angeles and team members in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and Arizona. Luisa’s successful career spans over 25 years – from TV news to Politics to Corporate America to Entrepreneur. She was named one of the Top 100 Hispanic Influentials in the US by Hispanic Magazine and Corporate Woman of the Year by the State of California. In her current role as Managing Partner at The 360 Agency, Luisa leverages her experience and network to provide thought leadership and strategic direction.
While Luisa has held numerous leadership titles throughout her career, the two she is most proud of include mother and mentor.
Graduation season is a momentous occasion for the thousands of young people who will celebrate a dream achieved. This year feels even more special, as I watched my daughter graduate with honors from the University of Arizona. Seeing her accomplishment took me back to my days as a newly minted graduate and aspiring storyteller. I immediately thought about the people in my life – my mentors – who prepared me for my next challenge: a remarkable career in marketing and advertising.
Mentorships have the potential to maximize the authentic power of young professionals who harbor rich cultural and social knowledge. Their nuanced experiences bring a vibrancy of perspectives that can spur genuine campaign ideas.
But therein lies the gap. It’s no secret that the advertising industry has a longstanding diversity problem, and the statistics are staggering. Only .1% of creative agencies are owned by women, despite women driving 70% to 80% of consumer purchases. The discrepancy also extends across racial lines. A 2020 ANA report found only 3% of 870 chief marketing officers were Black, 5% were Asian, and 4% were Hispanic. On the agency side, less than 3% employ people of color.
Without taking the steps to mentor people from diverse backgrounds, brands can miss opportunities to tap into rising talent and connect more authentically with target audiences.
As a Managing Partner of a female founded, award-winning creative agency, I’ve made it my mission to celebrate and explore diversity in all its aspects by mentoring diverse talent from within. My journey climbing the career ladder in a predominately white and male industry was not without its challenges. But with the support of my mentors, I felt empowered to lean into new opportunities with confidence.
Based on my 20+ years of experience, I am excited to share four strategies to help you build a culture of mentorship and with it, a diverse talent pipeline. If we are to tell stories that embrace the spectrum of multigenerational experiences, we should look to mentorship as a powerful way to pay it forward and shape the next generation of capable marketers.
- UNDERSTAND THE NUANCES OF A MENTORING RELATIONSHIP
Successful mentoring relationships require a clear purpose of what the mentee hopes to achieve in their career. Many relationships – whether created formally through corporate programs or by organic connection – fail due to the lack of clarity around desired outcomes. This is the chance to demonstrate your active listening and empathy skills as a mentor as well as set expectations about the time and energy each party is willing to invest. It’s also the time to discover barriers to your mentee’s career goals and explore together the best path forward.
Mentorship across cultures and generations happens in the workplace. However, your approach to mentorship will depend largely on your mentee’s level of acculturation.
For example, individuals who are first-generation might require a different approach than someone who was born in the U.S. and with some years of experience under their belt. Some mentees may be unsure about where to start or have reservations about asking a more senior employee for mentorship. Mentors should seek to understand their mentee on a holistic basis, which often means unearthing the pre-existing values, practices, and beliefs at play. Doing so can foster a better relationship founded on genuineness and trust.
It’s easy to confuse a mentor with a sponsor, but it’s important to know the difference. A mentor might be a coworker, a boss, or a friend who can help you think through how to navigate your career more effectively. Unlike a mentor, a sponsor is someone in a position of authority who can vouch for you in a career-defining moment. They will go out of their way to include you in their network because they are personally invested in your professional development. Upon becoming the first-ever Latina Vice President at Farmers Insurance, it was my sponsor who advocated on my behalf, ensuring I was not overlooked and helping me land the role.
- EMBRACE INDIVIDUALITY
Excellent mentors look beyond race and gender, embracing the unique strengths of their mentee. They take the time to dig deep to uncover their mentee’s foundational abilities. With this knowledge, they can share relevant articles, books, and personal insights to spark new ideas for personal and professional growth.
We believe that mentorship can provide a platform for diverse voices to shine and is invaluable to crafting winning stories. Hiring the best people means allowing them to bring their authentic selves to the table.
At our agency, we use the Clifton Strengths Assessment to identify the natural talents of our staff. We then visually map where people fit best within our agency based on those strengths. This exercise is especially helpful for mentors. For example, in the event your mentee appears unmotivated, you might refer to their Clifton Strengths Results to reinspire or offer guidance that can move them in the right direction. We’ve found that the Clifton Strengths Exercise activates stronger relationships between our staff who, through the assessment, can empathize with the individual gifts of their colleagues. This level of awareness helps our staff feel empowered to do what they do best everyday.
- CREATE A DIVERSE AND INCLUSIVE WORK CULTURE
As the only independently Latina and Black-owned agency in the country, we were attuned to the diversity gap early on and were deliberate in our strategies to change the narrative.
For many companies, organizational culture is often the culprit for stagnating a sense of mentorship in the workplace. People have to feel valued in order to feel comfortable being themselves at work. Encouraging individual expression has been the springboard for inspiring some of our most innovative and nuanced campaigns for global brands.
For example, we created AT&T’s Dream in Black, a multi-channel Afrofuturistic lifestyle platform that allowed the brand to co-create culture with African American Millennials. Through Dream in Black, AT&T has inexorably linked itself to what we have identified as a burgeoning “New Black Renaissance,” fostering loyalty and cultural authenticity in the segment. Our breakthrough campaign has garnered over 600 million impressions, and earned ADColor’s MVP of the year and a recent Addy and Anthem Award.
Celebrating and mentoring professionals of color allows us as marketers to deliver cultural authenticity for brands. When audiences feel like their voices and dreams are represented and expressed, we can break down cultural and generational barriers that exist between brands and consumers – a win-win for our creative industry.
- CONSIDER A REVERSE-MENTORSHIP PROGRAM
As mentors, we should be equally energized to learn from our mentees, as they are to learn from us. Reverse mentorship happens when a more junior employee acts as a mentor to a senior leader or executive. During my corporate career, I was blessed with mentoring many amazing individuals. One person in particular who stands out is Emily Preciado-Fonseca.
At the time, Emily was an employee for the Hispanic Ad Agency, I had hired. Her curiosity and desire to learn stood out to me almost immediately, but she needed help maneuvering her way through the corporate culture. I approached Emily and asked that we participate in a reverse-mentorship, recognizing the value of her perspectives and experiences on my own work as an executive. I gained valuable insight from her style of communication and her intuitive understanding of marketing in today’s digital age. Since that experience, Emily has continued to participate in mentorship opportunities and worked in marketing for large companies such as Disney. She recently launched her own website called Mommy Assist, an on-demand mommy concierge service.
PAYING IT FORWARD THROUGH MENTORSHIP
As leaders, we’ve all had people in our career journeys who cared enough about us to help us take that next step forward. My mentors saw my potential for leadership, invested in my growth, and opened doors to new opportunities. More importantly, they shaped me into someone who could pay it forward by bringing a new generation of leaders into our creative industry. I firmly believe that when we engage in mentoring, we are committing ourselves to the future success of our industry – a future that values diverse voices that can shift culture through powerful, groundbreaking storytelling.
To learn more about The 360 Agency’s award-winning campaigns contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. For opportunities to work with The 360 Agency, get in touch with us today.