One year in, BECA is training the next generation of Black marketing execs

Founder Jerri DeVard told us many companies have a ways to go when it comes to diversifying the C-suite.
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· 4 min read

It’s been a little over a year since Jerri DeVard founded the Black Executive CMO Alliance (BECA) with the goal of shrinking the corporate diversity gap.

What started as a group of 26 top Black marketing executives from Fortune 500 companies like Adidas, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Studios, and PetSmart has now grown to 33. DeVard said the group has “paused” the executive count to make sure it stayed “tight on what [its] culture was” as expansion continues.

“We’re doing really great,” DeVard told Marketing Brew. “I’d like to say more than I expected, but my dreams are so big they’re living up to it.”

Last year, DeVard, who’s held top marketing roles at companies like Office Depot and ADT—and now serves on the boards of companies including Under Armour and—told us she intended to help train the next generation of leaders through BECA’s four “ships”: internship, mentorship, sponsorship, and scholarship. Now, the organization is making progress on some of those promises through the development of programs like the BECA Playbook and its first Cannes appearance.

By the (Play)book

In the last year, DeVard and the BECA team created Playbook, a two-year, 60-hour program for what it calls “future leaders” who are partnered with an executive. “The beauty of having 33 members is that you have 33 different ways [to show] there’s no one way to be successful,” DeVard said.

The 25 future leaders meet bimonthly with their executive coaches and hear from others during the program on topics like being Black in the corporate world, developing leadership styles, and using data in marketing. “We felt that if we were going to pay it forward at scale, we had to do it in a way where people could walk out of there with some real tried-and-true tested skills,” DeVard said.

Future leaders must have approximately 10–20 years of professional experience and must currently work in a marketing role to be considered. DeVard said one of the goals is to keep them on the path to success and avoid the “murky middle,” where many managers drop off on their path to the executive suite.

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While some gains are being made in CMO diversity, just 15% in 2021 were non-white, according to consulting firm Stuart Spencer.

“We can’t close the gap. The gap is too fast, too wide, and too deep,” DeVard said. “We want to address the gap. We want to improve representation. We want to be able to train people and make sure that they know that they can have a great career in marketing and be prepared.”

We Cannes and we will

Eight future leaders and 13 BECA members will also be at Cannes Lions this month to discuss diversity in advertising as part of panels, Q&As, and master classes. “Cannes was really important to be able to understand, on a global stage, what diversity and DE&I really means,” DeVard said, adding that she’s “frustrated by the conversations that are going on about the importance of DE&I and the business case for that.”

Why? In 2020, DeVard said she saw companies pledge billions to increase representation and support diversity initiatives, “but when you look at organizations and their representation, it still is not where it should be and where it can be.”

According to an ANA study, as of last year, Black representation in marketing was around 6.6%, while total US population make-up is around 13%.

DeVard said companies need to recognize that addressing the diversity gap requires more than just lip service. She'd like to see diversity measured as a KPI and have executives held to account on progress, like other metrics of success.

“I think the real reason why representation hasn’t changed is there’s been a failure on the part of organizations to recognize that this work is important,” DeVard said.

“But,” she said, “We’re going to change the landscape of what this place looks like. And we’re going to do it with effective tools. And if what we're doing isn’t working, we’re not going to stop until it does.”

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