All of Us.

I know nothing about diversity or gender equity.

How could I? As a 50-something white male with an Anglo-Saxon last name, how could I ever truly understand what's going on inside the head of an African American job candidate as he completes a round of meetings with interviewers who look nothing like him? How could someone with my life experience really get what it means to be the only woman in a leadership meeting, with all the consciousness and calibration that goes with it?

The truth is, I can't possibly get it. Not completely, anyway. So I'm an imperfect messenger on the subject of diversity in our industry. I may be the wrong person to talk about the role of women in the digital advertising and marketing world. But I'm here and I'm paying attention and I'm going to talk about it.

This week's Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. Join AppNexus at this year's Yield Executive Summit, taking place on Wednesday, September 28, in New York City. We look forward to an exclusive day of discussions and presentations with top influencers in digital advertising as we examine the essential tools that every publisher must have for successful monetization and digital acceleration.

Possibly the only thing that makes my point of view relevant is the field of vision I have access to. Over the past two decades I've worked with a few hundred companies and a few thousand sales people. I meet them in large groups and also speak with them individually by phone or in person. Here is what I see and hear.

  • As I look across the population of digital sellers, account managers and operations people, I see so few African Americans that I end up remembering most of them by name.
  • The same women executives who are willing to challenge and share strong points of view in one-on-one conversation still subtly recede in large group settings. The first and loudest voices are always male, and I often need to actively pursue women for comment and participation.
  • Latino and Hispanic executives tend not to emphasize cultural identity within their largely non-Hispanic teams.
  • Digital publishing/media/marketing has an "NFL Head Coach" problem. Women make up a big share of the outstanding "players" in the league, and are reasonably well represented in the ranks of assistant coaches (regional managers). But when it comes to the head coaching spots - the CRO jobs - there are just not enough female faces. And the portion of minority candidates who end up in those top spots is negligible.

So I don't get it. But I want to. It seems to me that with the constant talent shortage in our industry, we cannot afford for a huge portion of our workforce to feel less than empowered and included. It also becomes apparent that the older white dudes like me need to open the lens much wider. I know my own peer group, and I honestly believe there's very little overt bias or bad intention. We just need to see all this with a fresh set of eyes and a new urgency.

Diversity is one of the leadership issues we'll be discussing at the Seller Forum on September 14th in New York. We've invited Karen Watai, and expert facilitator on the subject, to come in and challenge our beliefs and practices. Certainly that won't be the end of the discussion. But it might be a new beginning.