In 2017, Pepsi infamously thought it’d be a great idea to use Kendall Jenner to show the power a can of soda can have against police brutality. Just last month, Ancestry thought it’d be nice to use a sugar-coated depiction of a relationship between a white man and a black woman during slavery to sell its services.

These two examples, two years apart, are joined by countless instances – across social media, in catalogs (H&M!), or in the products themselves (Prada!) – of people of colour, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and others depicted in ways that range from tone deaf to downright offensive.

The first question when one of these goes public is, who was in the room when this got approved?

Beyond the most blatant PR debacles, more questions in general have been asked in recent years of the society brands are reflecting back to us through their advertising. These questions are increasingly part of any cultural conversation around ads, as much as the content or products they’re promoting. Everything has become brand communications, from retail stores to Super Bowl ads to even the political contributions of a company and its CEO.

So it stands to reason that who makes the advertising is becoming a bigger part of that conversation.

Most of the focus around inclusion has been on the creative and marketing leaders within the ad agencies and brands themselves, but a new tool is now launching to also help diversify the talent behind the camera in all areas of commercial production.

Grow Your Circle, created by Forsman & Bodenfors New York, is an open source database that allows US agencies and producers to search for and find underrepresented talent – including those who identify as LGBTQ+, come from diverse backgrounds, or live with a disability – across production disciplines including film, digital, and experiential. Its menus filter talent based on expertise, location, or category specialty, and the database is also searchable based on whether it’s a female- or minority-owned business.

The inspiration behind Grow Your Circle came in 2018, when F&B tried to use an all-female production crew for a project and found it difficult to find talent for every needed position. It soft-launched the initiative at the 3% Movement conference in November 2018, and so far membership has grown significantly, including agencies like 72andSunny and Droga5 as well as independent production companies such as Prettybird, WAX, and Armada.

There have been effective efforts to boost the presence of female directors in commercial production, most notably through Free The Bid, founded by Alma Har’El in 2016. Madison Wharton, global board member for integrated production at Forsman & Bodenfors, says that’s a great start and their goal is to extend those efforts.

“There are other tools out there that’ll help you find directors and things like that, but there wasn’t anything available for all of the different roles and within production,” says Wharton, who has led the effort behind the platform along with Forsman & Bodenfors New York’s director of communications and PR Danny Hernandez.

Wharton says the advertising industry spends $20 billion every year on commercial production, and ad agencies have tremendous buying power. “When we’re making the decisions of who we’re hiring for these productions, we’re shaping the cultural fabric of the production industry with every choice that we make,” she says. “So we’re going to our clients and letting them know that their money makes a huge impact on the industry, and that we’d like to be really thoughtful in that consideration.”

About the author: Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto. 

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