Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

E.J. Stancil

R/GA’s E.J. Stancil on D&I in digital and tech

E.J. Stancil is Director of Culture & Operations at innovation consultancy R/GA, a subsidiary of IPG. He’s tasked with democratising the work and accountability of ED&I across every level of the organisation. Stancil is also an Advisory Board Member at AdColor.

The LA-based, Houston native established his roots in advocacy through the 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Internship Program and AdColor Futures. His previous experience also includes time as an Associate Project Manager at DigitasLBi.

Stancil’s work has been recognised through the award of three R/GA Cube’s for Innovation, Collaboration, and Culture.

Are businesses understanding the value of a diverse and inclusive workforce?

There is a growing body of research that articulates that organisations with more diverse workforces and leadership teams perform better. For example, we know that diverse and inclusive teams lead to more inclusive design and products, which then promotes increases in consumer satisfaction. Leaders certainly understand the value, but at times may struggle with driving meaningful action that can augment better and sustainable performance from their workforce. 

I think some businesses and leaders are anxious about taking a misstep when it comes to advocating for equity. Our current systems of oppression are centuries old and are ever-evolving. It can feel overwhelming and challenging to feel like we have to correct all the wrongs overnight. It is my belief that we must not wait to release the big and perfected changes. Instead, the work I do for equity is tied to progress over perfection. It’s more of an agile approach, where we are constantly testing and learning how to be better. At R/GA, we think of businesses as an operating system, which requires frequent and ongoing updates. Be proud of the small wins, but don’t get comfortable stopping there. Keep the momentum moving forward because there is plenty of work to be done. 

What are the challenges that businesses in the tech sector must overcome to build truly inclusive and diverse workforces?

A common challenge I am seeing in the tech sector is the ability to move from strategy to execution. We spend a lot of time and money surveying and researching how people are feeling but have a difficult time translating solutions into actions. Leadership perceives processes and practices to be inclusive; however, women and ethnic minority employees in tech teams disagree. This perception gap highlights that intentions do not always equate to impact. As an industry, we need to double down on efforts that operationalise equity, diversity, and inclusion into the business so that it is everyone’s job, rather than the few who have the D&I title. It’s helpful to remember that institutions are made of many people. The interpersonal relationships play a large role in the work and can either be drivers or inhibitors. The goal here should be to resist business as usual.

Is the recruitment process broken when we consider diversity and inclusion?

At an institutional level, we need to consider how we unveil the invisible systems of exclusion within our practices. Bias is coded not just in our brains, but our technologies as well. For example, when using AI to screen candidates, the technology has the potential to overlook incredibly qualified candidates with non-traditional backgrounds. In this case, we must ask ourselves how we override that error.  

At an interpersonal and individual level, we must be mindful of the language we are using. A case I run into often is the notion of a single person being “diverse” or that we need to hire more “diverse” candidates. To me, this is incredibly vague as the term represents a variety of distinctions such as race, sexuality, cognitive ability, citizen status, sexuality, and more. It blurs a specific topic and dilutes good intentions. If you’re looking to hire more Black people, be specific about that. If you’re looking to hire people who are neurodivergent, be specific about that, too. We’re currently in a time where people demand to be seen for exactly who they are. We should aim to tailor our language and practices to support this notion. 

Has the pandemic had a positive or negative impact on diversity and inclusion across the tech sector?

The pandemic has amplified inequities that have always existed (e.g., disparities in household responsibilities for women or growth and progress opportunities for underrepresented groups). In tech, there is almost an automatic benefit of being able to work from home. However, this has the potential to increase pressure on employees to perform at greater heights due to the notion of being always on and always accessible to others. In this environment, businesses across many sectors have been highly successful and are looking to maintain their top-line growth, but people – some more than others – are struggling to keep up. In a variety of industries, vulnerable jobs have been impacted by furloughs, layoffs, or simply being rendered as unproductive. The psychological impact of these combined factors can be profound as some people have developed anxiety from both work and the pandemic itself. Businesses have the opportunity to implement targeted support for their employee’s well-being, specifically for those who come from underrepresented or historically oppressed groups.