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Zambezi | Strategy   



The influence of Black culture on American culture is all-around. Though Black talent heavily contributes to what’s popular, the majority of power still remains in the hands of white men. The same stands true for the industry that bridges the gap between culture and brands: advertising.


If representation and equity was prioritized at the leadership level to the boardroom, many missteps could’ve been avoided. When it comes to leadership roles, the advertising landscape is overwhelmingly White and underwhelmingly Black. Now is the time to level the playing field and rightfully put Black talent in decision-making roles.


Many advertising industry leaders talk about change, but are not aggressively taking action to create real change within their organizations. What is the real problem with hiring, recruiting, and retaining Black talent?


Actionably stomp out systemic racism in the advertising industry. Let’s dismantle the systems, processes, practices, and procedures that are holding the advertising industry back from promoting Black talent into leadership roles. 


IN FOR 13 assembled pitch teams for the 20+ IN FOR 13 agencies. Zambezi tackled the assigned problem:

  • How to understand and operationalize belonging

  • What is belonging at its root?

  • Since it's a feeling, can it be operationalized?

  • What type of programming/ training is suggested that’ll directly increase the feeling of belonging?

Many advertising industry leaders talk about change, but are not aggressively taking action to create real change within their organizations. But it's not only about hiring, recruiting, and retaining black talent. It's about connecting them more thoughtfully in a company and our industry so that they feel like they belong.

Strategy Overview

Over the last 150 years we have made very little progress

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Why This Matters

The Implication 

ON THE CURRENT TRAJECTORY, IT WILL TAKE ABOUT 95 YEARS for Black employees to reach parity across all levels in the private sector. 

ADDRESSING THE BARRIERS THAT HOLD BACK ADVANCEMENT for Black employees could cut that down to 25 years

In order to maximize retention efforts and investment for black talent

Belonging must be operationalized.

Let's Unpack Belonging 

Safety & Security

How do we start creating conversations to address what is happening in society and how it affects employees both in and out of the workplace? 

Community Support

What avenues can leadership use to help provide resources and opportunities for black professionals to feel supported and seen?

Three Tenants of Belongs


How do we make sure that our agency beliefs of DEI and belonging are showing up in what we do? 

But the hair styler category is lagging, and fails to reflect the 65% of the population who have curly, coily or wavy hair. 

Safety & Security

Societal factors have made it difficult for black professionals to feel safety and belonging at work. To embed a culture of belonging, leadership behavior plays a crucial role to reinforce the value of fairness, respect, and safety. When agencies don't address impactful events it deepens the feeling of exhaustion and can lead to racial fatigue.


Racial battle fatigue is a relatively new concept in the field of mental health. This state is what can cause what some have described as "sick and tired of being sick and tired."

Research shows that this type of ongoing experience creates psychological racial battle fatigue — a natural depletion response to commonplace, consistent experiences of heightened distress due to racism.

Although it may not be possible to fully “heal” from an ongoing trauma, both managers and employees can start creating space for recovery and resilience

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Community Support

Advertising is still behind in creating a welcome environment for Black employees. The values in the workplace need to change with belonging and support being at the heart of it. 

Belonging became 12% more important for employee happiness during COVID-19. 76% say having a sense of belonging at work means being treated fairly and respectfully.


 19% of Black employees didn’t see someone of their own race making it to a management-level position, compared to 3% of Whites. 

There are three major reason why Black professionals are still struggling to find community support within the industry.

Nepotism runs rampant:

At a study of  24  advertising interns referred to as "must-hires" (which means interns with family connections) were white. In most cases, must-hires are a well-kept but open secret at an organization; their connections are subject to an implicit don't ask, don't tell policy.

The qualifications for entry-level positions in advertising can be loose and subjective

It comes down to whether a candidate feels like a "culture fit" rather than objective skills or experiences.

Advertising employees often refer their friends for open positions

Which may save the agency the expense of a headhunter and provide the added bonus of a familiar officemate, but also makes for a racially homogenous workplace.

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Unity comes when the workplace is advocating and taking real steps towards the needed changes.

A belief-driven employee movement is happening with many wanting to find companies that align with their values. Only 40% of workers feel aligned with their company mission, vision and values.

 61% of employees choose, leave, avoid, or consider employers based on their values and beliefs. 

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Operationalizing belonging is about maintaining a process for leadership and inviting Black talent into the conversation.


Cat Marsh: Strategist

Jasmine Green: Associate Director of Social Strategist

Stephanie Ramos: Director of People

Jean Freeman: Principle & CEO of Zambezi

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