Heartbeat presses onward in diversity quest

By Michelle Edwards VP, Human Resources, Heartbeat

Like many agencies, we were rocked by the events of this year. While diversity and inclusion have long been priorities, we realized that we had to take more urgent action, so we released a commitment letter in August detailing our plan to make Heartbeat look like the city many of us call home: New York. 

In the time since we released our letter, we’re proud to report we’ve already made progress. The key was engaging with the Heartbeat community to create programs and priorities that were sustainable long-term, ensuring we’d remain dedicated even as the news cycle moved on. 

We’ve ramped up our diversity and inclusion efforts in a few different arenas: hiring and talent development, internal support groups, and agency communications. We’ve also launched a new task force, the Dismantle Racism team, made up of any Heartbeater who wants to join the cause; they’ve been very involved in implementing these new initiatives. 

As many BIPOC leaders have been pointing out for years, fostering diversity isn’t just about hiring diverse people – it’s about purposefully creating a workplace where they can thrive. That’s been our ultimate goal, and according to Heartbeaters, we’re well on our way.

Here’s what we’ve done so far, which can hopefully offer some learnings and guidance for others in the industry: 

We’ve Hired More Inclusively and Promoted Great Talent

Despite a tough year broadly, we’re thankful that our business has grown, which has enabled us to put our hiring principles into action. We’ve been working hard to source talent from a wider variety of places and to examine our preconceived notions when selecting candidates. It’s paid off: nearly half of our 2020 hires are from diverse backgrounds. 

Beyond that, in our effort to create an inclusive place for diverse talent to call home long-term, we’ve paid special attention to paving the way to advancement for BIPOC Heartbeaters. 57 percent of our promotions this year have gone to diverse talent. And at the Director level, we’ve gone from 40 percent to 51 percent diverse. It’s important for our BIPOC colleagues to know this is a place for them to thrive, so we’re nurturing staff through clear career paths and mentorship placements. As time goes on, all of us – including our clients – will reap the enormous benefits of having diverse representation at every level of our organization. 

We’ve Made Sure Everyone Feels Supported

Like many agencies, we have affinity groups – we call them Business Resource Groups (BRGs). Our BRGs are a crucial part of the Heartbeat ecosystem, providing community, perspective, conversation and connection. They hold social events, run fundraisers and awareness campaigns, and clue in the wider community to issues that impact them! 

This year, as we’ve been working remotely and dealing with traumatic events from home, the BRGs have been more important than ever; membership has grown, and we’ve actually expanded our offerings to meet demand. Sample groups include (likely self-explanatory in their focus!): “Meet All the Black People,” “Queerbeat,” “Asiancy,” and “Latidores.” Whether they’re safe spaces for chats and networking, or places for folks to brainstorm and take action, Heartbeaters have told us that these groups have been key in making them feel supported. 

We’ve Prioritized D&I in Agency Communications

Messaging about diversity and inclusion has to come from the top – and it must be frequent. Our leaders have incorporated D&I messaging into their regular communications, providing continual updates on our progress towards goals. They also reach out to the agency when traumatic events are in the news, making sure Heartbeaters know we care about them, and encouraging anyone feeling rattled to care for themselves. In our public-facing communications, we’ve made sure to regularly cover topics that impact BIPOC, doing our best to spotlight issues that need attention and take a stance on sometimes-controversial topics. 

Michelle Edwards

Beyond top-down communication, we’ve invested significant time and money into creating spaces for Heartbeaters to learn from and talk with one another. We’ve brought in outside facilitators to run multiple companywide training sessions addressing race in the workplace, and we’ve increased the frequency of our “Brave Spaces” discussion program, with topics ranging from microaggressions to allyship. Our Brave Spaces are Heartbeat-run, with team members receiving special training to facilitate these open, companywide forums. They can be emotional, but it’s crucial to give people the space to express how they feel – after all, especially in this pandemic, we interact with our coworkers more than almost anyone else. Nourishing our empathy for one another is essential to a healthy work environment. 

We’ve Let Heartbeaters Set the Agenda

We knew that our leadership team couldn’t – and shouldn’t – be the only ones choosing priorities or setting goals for inclusion, and we knew that we couldn’t execute any of our plans alone. So we put it in the hands of the people of Heartbeat, who formed the Dismantle Racism team. 

 The “DR Team,” as we call it, is a group open to anyone who’d like to join, and its members come from all of our different departments, career levels, races, age groups, gender identities, and sexual orientations. They’re united in their passion for racial justice and have taken on projects that push Heartbeat forward, including managing internal awareness campaigns, disseminating digestible info for hot-button issues, running fundraisers, advocating for voter engagement, providing educational resources, and more. They meet regularly and make a point to compassionately engage with the larger Heartbeat community to make sure all of us – executives, HR, their teammates, and everyone else – are aligned in our goals and our progress. The group has made meaningful impact since launch and they have even bigger plans for the coming year. 

 As a Black woman and a mom of two teenage boys, the past year has had tremendous personal impact – it’s been hard, but I’ve felt empowered to raise my voice, and the allyship I’ve experienced has been really encouraging. 

I applaud all of the agencies and corporations that have gone further than social posts or statements of support, actually committing to increasing their BIPOC populations or investing in the advancement of BIPOC. I can promise you that these efforts pay off – you will have stronger agency communities, and more successful businesses. 

Together, we’ll make the difference between a fleeting response to a cultural flare and real change in our industry. The work we’re doing is hard – but it’s worthwhile, and I’m so glad so many of us are united in it.