Marème Touré is leading the charge for DEI

—It is Black History Month, and every day this month, The Message will be sharing short profiles of Black professionals from across the industry: marketing, advertising, PR, media and production. Written by POCAM members, the profiles are a way to “fight invisibility,” an exercise in representation for an industry where representation must get better—

Marème Touré was initially reluctant to enter into a career in advertising because she didn’t see herself represented. Eventually deciding to give it a try, she found she enjoyed its power to influence hearts and minds, while allowing her more creativity in her day-to-day life, along with less red tape and more agility.

Three years into her career, Touré, currently vice-president DEI at Dentsu Canada, has had an outsized impact on the industry, specifically when it comes to DEI. Last March, she was featured in a Forbes article  about Dentsu’s ongoing efforts around inclusion.

“Kind of cool,” she said, crediting her many mentors within the BIPOC community for her career growth. They include a former executive at Dentsu when she started her career, as well as a mentoring relationship with a more senior Black woman, and many on her Americas DEI team—a group she described as “fierce,” “inspiring,” and “role models.”

As a DEI leader, Touré said it’s easier for her to deal with “all of the isms,” while becoming more comfortable with who she is and what she represents. Still, she said, she feels a need to prove herself, and there are still moments when she lets the noise get in her way. She prefers to call people in rather than calling them out, but said that there are days “when there’s just no more grace to give.”

Touré was one of the people behind last year’s Dentsu initiative “Inklusive,” (above) which took what the agency described as “meaningful pieces” of participating employees’ identity story and carbonized them and ground them into a small vial of ink that was distributed to Dentsu staffers along with an invitation to “write progress.” The invite included a fountain pen and a personal letter from Touré about how the project reflects the agency’s DEI efforts.

People will only believe the industry is really living up to its promises for real change when there is more diversity in the leadership ranks, said Touré. Until then, it is simply just filling quotas with no real, sustainable change. “We need to shift focus from diversity to inclusion, and look deeper at the exclusionary internal processes that hold people back,” she said.

She specifically wants to see more authentic representative creative work. “If the diversity that exists in the country is a part of our teams, and these folks are telling the stories, then these stories will truly resonate.”

There is real value in setting standards, discussing tough questions, and making lasting change together, said Touré, who currently sits on the DEI committees of the Canadian Marketing Association headed by Sartaj Sarkaria, and the A2C headed by Dominique Villeneuve.

She hopes that her ongoing work around DEI will lead to safe spaces and communities where people feel like they belong, ultimately creating a foundation for sustainable, transformative change. Black talent should look to make connections with people in their organization, and in DEI roles. She encourages them to “ask the hard questions to make sure that the company is a fit. And, just apply.”

“Our humanity connects us,” said Touré. She’s fond of a quote from the late Maya Angelou: “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

Gavin Barrett is CEO and chief creative officer of Barrett and Welsh, and a member of People of Colour in Advertising & Marketing’s steering committee.

Gavin Barrett