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Croom talks director role with Adweek

DC is proud to announce Kumi Croom’s new role as DC’s first director of diversity and collaboration. Check out Kumi talking with Adweek about her goals and the progress she’s already helped to usher in.

BY ERIK OSTER

Independent San Francisco agency Duncan Channon has appointed Kumi Croom as its first designated DEI leader.

Croom takes on the role of collaboration and equity, responsible for leading the DEI group she helped establish at Duncan Channon in 2019, focusing on equitable talent recruitment and retention, maintaining an inclusive culture, overseeing ongoing anti-racism education for the agency, as well as embedding an inclusive, culturally-sensitive and collaborative mindset impacting creative work. She reports directly to Duncan Channon CEO Andy Berkenfield, and will work closely with the rest of the agency’s DEI group as well as director of talent Allie Bart.

“My vision is for Duncan Channon to be and be seen as a multicultural agency,” Croom said in a statement. “An agency that develops inclusive, human ideas that create change—with an institutionalized process to honor cultural nuances.”

The atypical title for the role, which was created for and with Croom, is indicative of the importance of collaboration to how Duncan Channon is approaching DEI measures across the agency. Croom will also continue in her role as group account director for the California Tobacco Control Program. In that role, Croom oversaw an account which required Duncan Channon to work with partner agencies to understand a variety of diverse perspectives across California.

“We have the good fortune of having these social impact clients whose focus is on the entire population of California and California is such a diverse place.” Berkenfield told Adweek. “We can’t have the default general market orientation be white.”

Duncan Channon’s DEI group includes 10 employees from various seniority levels across the agency and is currently focused on expanding recruitment pipelines to identify qualified BIPOC candidates with non-traditional backgrounds, prioritizing retention through mentorship, paths for advancement and fostering an inclusive culture allowing employees to feel comfortable being their authentic selves at work.

Croom explained that the agency focused its efforts over the course of the last year on recruitment and retention, as well as antiracism education efforts which have included mandatory programs with Dr. Lori A. Watson—all areas which will remain priorities going forward. Duncan Channon has thus far held two voluntary monthly DEI town halls informed by questions posed to the DEI group which were attended by around 75% of the agency, Berkenfield claimed.

“The retention part I emphasized because we’re involving the entire agency in the inclusive work we’re leaning in on and making it something that the entire agency is a part of,” Croom told Adweek. “When you start to bring these convos about race into the workplace it is uncomfortable. We are working hard to create an environment where the team is comfortable giving their voice and thoughts.”

Duncan Channon says that BIPOC talent represents 70% of new hires since Jan. 1, 2020. Asked about transparency around diversity reporting, Duncan Channon shared diversity data with Adweek showing that the agency is approximately 63% white, with 11% of talent Black or African American, 9% Asian, 5% Hispanic or Latino and 1% Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. The agency is also around 71% female.

“We are seeing talent emerge from unexpected places, where we haven’t put in that effort before,” Berkenfield said, something he said resulted from recognition of the fact that the agency needed to work harder to find the right talent.

“Part of this awakening … means meeting people and understanding that some people’s resumes are not going to be traditional. There’s a widespread understanding that the traditional construct and experience isn’t what it takes to find talent,” he added. “There is lots of great talent out there that doesn’t fit that description. We have found great talent that does come from non-traditional places.”

Another step the agency has taken to promote greater equity in its hiring and compensation practices is to stop asking candidates how much they made in previous roles, which can perpetuate existing inequities rooted in systemic bias. Berkenfield explained the agency has approached promotions and compensation through an equity lens for some time and reevaluates and adjusts for discrepancies.

“If we’re serious about breaking down the patterns, invisible and visible, that lead to unconscious bias this is one of the things that we have to do,” Berkenfield said. “We have been an employee-oriented agency from our founding. We’ve had a cultural orientation of taking care of people and treating people fairly but nonetheless exist in a culture that has built systems we weren’t even aware of, didn’t even see how decisions we were making were based on systemic racism. It’s on us now to disconnect ourselves from these systems and stop making easy choices.”

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