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AAF Greater Rochester DEI Roundtable Q4 2023 Recap

November 7, 2023

Ad Industry,DEI,Members,Rochester

On the morning of October 24th, our passionate group of local agency leaders from Truth Collective, Butler/Till, Flynn, Article Group, Helen+Gertrude, Partners + Napier, and DS+CO reconvened to talk about recent DEI wins, how the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts they’re focusing on in their companies are going, and how they plan to move forward.

A couple of the takeaways from the conversation that really resonated with me were:

  1. When difficult things are happening in the world, businesses should focus on the people and the impact — rather than taking a stance that may alienate one group over another or further divide. 

We talked a lot about what’s happening in Israel and Palestine (among other recent religion, race-based, geographic and cultural conflicts) and how agencies may feel pressure to say something — but it is often difficult to know what to say or do, as a business. Our conversation centered around the idea that the best thing a leader can do for their team (and therefore the company) is to focus first on the people within their own organization and the impact the events that are happening may have. When we’re thinking about that potential impact, we need to recognize the potential for intergroup bias — the tendency to evaluate one’s own membership group or its members more favorably than those in other groups, which impacts how much empathy we have.

We also discussed the “donut of control” — which are the actions we can take to make a difference in our immediate sphere of influence when what’s happening in the world all feels beyond our immediate control. To remain silent speaks volumes to our people and while we likely don’t have full control over the escalation of the war, we can offer safe spaces and resources of support for our employees and do things like make sure our people feel seen and heard and publish or reinforce our inclusion policies in our workplace. Because that is within our donut of control.

There is still much to be done in our agencies and communities to be better allies, to create more inclusive environments, and strengthen our understanding and empathy. But every conversation and action allows us to collectively get a little closer, every day. This cohort will continue to have these important conversations, forge and strengthen connections, and educate each other through shared experiences. Stay tuned for more from our next meeting in Q4 2023.


  1. Disabilities exist because we haven’t yet figured out how to support those individuals. 


Almost every restaurant now asks if anyone at the table has any food allergies or restrictions, so they can make accommodations. It’s become standard. So why isn’t it standard for us to ask clients if they need any accommodations, ahead of meetings or presentations? It’s such an easy thing to do — and one of our participants added great context by challenging us to think about what life must have been like before eyeglasses were invented.

Every person who had impaired vision just had to go through life not being able to see well. 

But now that many of us have access to glasses and contact lenses, the playing field can be leveled. Imperfect eyesight is no longer holding many of us back and limiting daily difficulties of natural sight — and in most cases here in the US, having imperfect eyesight is rarely considered a “disability” — it’s just something people adjust for.

And that’s the goal, to reach a point where making adjustments (and having the tools to do so be so widely used) that accommodations are not even something we notice or think about. 

A couple of examples of accommodations you can start implementing today are adding a summary slide of ideas at the end of pitches or presentations and turning on captions for virtual meetings.

You may not ever know it, but your clients or employees in the room could be people with neurological disorders or differences, and the rapid cycling through slides to get back to a previously presented idea may be something that distracts focus or participation or even worse it could cause harmful medical outcomes like a seizure. By simply including a recap of the ideas on one slide at the end, you can potentially avoid unintended harm or the sometimes difficult situation where a participant has to openly self-disclose their “disability” to the group.

Similarly, turning captions on is easy to do in most video meeting platforms now, and by doing so you make those meetings more accessible for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing and those with varying levels of language proficiency.


  1. Inclusive language is evolving and we all need grace — and resources.   


Throughout our time together, there was a lot of dialogue around “saying the right thing” and also not saying the wrong thing —  in our internal communications, client communications, or the work that we create. 

There’s no doubt that language carries with it an unusual power: a single word can heal or hurt. Words can create cultures of belonging or cultures of exclusion, and it’s important to know which words or phrases are which, especially if you and your company value diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We touched on how agencies are evolving certain roles. Many Copy Editors are now adding “Inclusive Language Specialist” to their titles and becoming experts within this realm of work — because we all need to know better to do better. 

I personally shared an experience about working with clients at The Trevor Project, a non-profit that provides 24/7 crisis support services to LGBTQIA+ young people — and how they ask partners and agencies to be mindful of violent language, including (but not limited to) words and phrases like bullet points, taking a stab at something, pulling the trigger, rolling with the punches, killing it, or shooting someone an email.

I’d never realized the common workplace idioms I was using could be harmful to others, by conjuring and normalizing ideas of aggression or physical violence. As an individual, I am diametrically opposed to violence — but I still had no idea that the language I was using was wrong until someone taught me.  

As an organization that exists to support our local advertising community, AAF Greater Rochester is committed to finding and sharing helpful resources with all of you — and if we can’t find what we need, we’ll do what we can to create it. 

Stay tuned for more DEI conversations and content and reach out and let us know if you’d like to be part of our next cohort or roundtable conversation.