When Tiffany R. Warren joined Girl Scouts as a 9-year-old girl in Roxbury, Massachusetts, she didn’t sign up for an ordinary troop. Yes, they participated in camping trips and cookie sales, but they also recited Martin Luther King Jr. speeches. Warren credits her time in the Girl Scouts — under the guidance of Ms. Emma — for teaching her about diversity issues and helping her develop leadership skills.
The Girl Scouts was only the beginning though. As senior vice president and chief diversity officer for Omnicon Group, Warren strives to promote the “new America,” as it’s known in the advertising industry — a world that is proud of every race, gender, orientation and background and displayed in her ad campaigns.
In 2005, Warren founded ADCOLOR, an annual conference that celebrates the achievements of diverse individuals in creative industries across the United States.
This year, 675 people attended, making it a sold-out affair.
On Oct. 28, she was honored as a 2015 Woman of Distinction by the Girl Scouts of Greater New York, bringing her back to her childhood days in Massachusetts.
Below is an edited excerpt of Warren’s interview with Diversity Executive magazine.
What is the biggest diversity challenge facing the advertising industry?
One of the biggest problems is [a lack of] resource allocation, whether that be financial or people giving their time to focus on diversity. There’s not a lack of opportunity, but sometimes there’s a lack of awareness of the types of opportunities that exist within the advertising industry. We do a great job at marketing for our clients, but we don’t do a good job at marketing ourselves to potential talent.
Building a community for a culture of people, we need to do that. One of the most important ways to establish communities internally is to participate and support communities externally. When I entered the business in 1997, I only knew of one community — the AAF Most Promising Multicultural Students Program, which I graduated from. That was a community I held on to for dear life because I was seeing other young people like me who wanted to be in this business, and it was so affirming. Reaching out beyond your agency doors gives employees an opportunity to create good will that ultimately finds a place within your agency community.
What I’ve discovered is creating a community [of diverse talent] has helped foster and deliver more diversity into many of the agencies.
What is the key to achieve sustainable diversity in the ad business?
I think where [Omnicom Group] has been successful is how we approach our corporate-social responsibility and partnering with organizations that have a direct impact on how we do business and help us with our talent pipeline. I can give an example of our partnership with GLAAD. They help us tremendously in terms of building LGBT awareness among our agency and network, but also sharing with us and helping us become more in tune with [LGBT issues]. I think it’s important to approach diversity not as trendy. Often when people say that, I look at them and say, ‘I don’t see my color as trendy.’ I have to live with it my whole life. [Minorities] don’t see [diversity] as trendy; they see it as affirming who they are.
What was it like to be honored as a Woman of Distinction by the Girl Scouts?
I stood up on that stage; the Brownies were right next to me, and my mom was able to come from Charlotte, and 30 of my colleagues and mentees were there. It was a full-circle moment. My mom took a chance and put me in this program, and it was important for her to be there.
[ADCOLOR] is celebrating its 10th anniversary next year, and it went from being a Sunday night dinner to a conference, an award show and a program that touches 30 young professionals every year who are from the top 18 diversity programs within the advertising and marketing community. The next step for me beyond what I do within Omnicom is to create something that touches people’s hearts that creates opportunities to change within their companies vs. celebrating outside of it.