Hi Sponsorship World…. It’s Time To Get Uncomfortable.

This last month, we have been rocked with challenges and it’s forced all of us to stop and evaluate. It’s encouraged empathy, honesty and vulnerability among our communication practices, which has been needed for so long - but it’s not the only thing needed.

To start this conversation, I wanted to share a short story on why I was so dedicated to creating a social community with The Sponsorship Space: Four years ago, I applied for a mentorship program with the sports marketing industry – the organization was taking in 30 mentees to learn from some of the industry’s largest executives, and at the time, I was considered a promising and high potential person in the industry. I was rejected.

Okay fair, you don’t always get opportunity – I’ve always understood that.

After the list of mentees was released and I learned who got accepted into the program, it stood out to me that it was at least 75-80% white people and many in lower positions than I had at the time (experience was supposed to be a big part of the criteria).

This is in Canada, where as a country we always ‘attempt’ to promote diversity practices.

The situation opened my eyes a bit to inherent bias. Historically in our industry, executives have often empowered & supported young professionals in which they can see a younger version of themselves. That’s a problem, when the majority of those executives are white men. It reflects in the industry we work in, especially if we’re talking about sports marketing.

'Diversity & Inclusion' can many times just be a buzzword, used by corporate to show they are taking on an issue and working towards a solution – but after listening and sharing with a number of friends in the industry this week, buzzwords are no longer appropriate.

There are organizations out there right now with white executives sitting in a boardroom discussing how they can voice their support for the black community through ads, donations, etc. – these companies need to ask themselves, why aren't there any black or POC executives involved in these discussions?

Often times, it’s because they aren’t part of the leadership team.

The solution is somewhat simple, but requires long-term commitment. Every organization needs a truly diverse leadership and employee base – this is not only critical in turbulent times, but it's beneficial and advantageous for daily business. It will lead your teams to more productive discussions, better perspective and more culturally relevant processes for internal & external communication.

The real action you can take lies within your organizational structure and it starts with creating a community that feels empowered and included in the company’s decision-making process.

For example, the last few years as an industry we have made huge strides to support female leadership thanks to the prominence of the #MeToo movement and more vocal exposure to the glass ceilings women often face – but let’s be real, there’s a TON of work to be done in that regard, as women are still a small percentage of executive leaders.

Of course, we can’t accept how it currently sits, but it’s also not acceptable for executives to pick & choose which diversity initiatives they want to support. Teams can’t say diversity is embraced internally, because their leadership team has a few white female executives.

People of colour are fighting a different battle, a very real battle, and it’s up to our industry to support giving our employees the resources they need to be supported internally for growth. This is true for all minorities – as an executive, think about how you can support them.

For any agencies and brand marketers out there, please don’t suggest this is the time to ‘show’ how we can support the African American community. Instead, lean in to help all of us figure out how we can hire and promote more talented people in the black and coloured community.

This is not the time for ads or logo changes – it’s not time to check off a box for ‘diversity support’. It’s time for systemic change in our industry. It starts with our equity practices.

This is an issue that has always been close to my heart, but I’ve always been afraid to speak up about it, knowing how it would impact job opportunities for me.

It's no longer something I think about.

I am aware that I’ll never be able to empathize with my black friends and colleagues on their experiences, because I haven’t dealt with the same level of discrimination, biases or prejudice. In that regard, I’m spending this week listening – but this does not mean I can’t speak up to help fix problems that are evident in our industry.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be launching an advisory committee of 30 to 40 professionals to support talented high school, college & graduate students. We want to bring together a community of future marketers that accurately reflects the community we live in, and that starts with supporting, attracting and promoting talented minorities in our industry.

Whether people realize this or not, the sports & sponsorship industries are ones filled with privilege. Most of us are forced to work for free at the beginning stages of our career – which keeps the doors closed for people with more challenging circumstances. Many people might not have resources or money to allow them to spend every day for six months in a free internship, especially after covering massive college tuition fees.

This sets us up for failure.

We don’t all have the answers on how to fix this, but we can hold ourselves accountable for what’s next. Remember, this is not a comfortable conversation to have internally but growth happens when we are outside of our comfort zones.