Supporting creatives of color breaking into the ad industry

Syneos Health Black Employee Resource Group‘s mentorship program nurtures diverse creative talent from underrepresented groups.

Black female art director checking the photos on a monitor

Image source: Adobe Stock /

Often the first crucial step on the employment ladder, internships offer valuable real-life experience and opportunities, but when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, many students received cancellation emails. The impact — especially on minority groups — has been massive. Through its diversity and inclusion initiative, global biopharmaceutical solutions organization Syneos Health came forward to help, via its newly established Black Employee Resource Group.

One of the group’s first projects was to establish a mentorship program with the aim to, among other things, nurture and recruit diverse creative talent from underrepresented groups, especially at this challenging time. Harvey Austin, vice president at Syneos Health, became a mentor with 100 Roses from Concrete founded by Keni Thacker. The initiative enabled a select group of multicultural college students to gain valuable work experience over eight weeks in summer 2020. Austin assisted his mentee Timothy Donohue and team, which resulted in the creation of a TV commercial for City Living NY, focusing on the important cause of helping foster children transition into adulthood once they turn 21 and leave the foster care system. The TV spot aired locally in the greater New York area with the goal of raising awareness of the issue and increasing donations, and it has had a tremendous impact on both audiences and those that made it.

“In advertising, marketing, and the creative industries, the percentage of people of color is extremely low anyway,” explains Austin. “Now, because of the pandemic, a lot of summer internships were going to be cancelled, and it really hit hundreds of students across the country. So, 100 Roses from Concrete partnered with the Advertising Club of New York and Save the Internship New York to find organizations that still allowed those interns to work for them. We stepped in.”

Creating a TV spot for City Living NY during the pandemic, with support from Adobe Stock

Austin’s mentee Timothy Donohue and his team of 12 peers not only created a TV spot but also reimagined paid advertisement and social media branding for City Living NY. Due to the pandemic, however, the interns were not able to go out to shoot original footage. Adobe then stepped in to grant them access to video and image assets from Adobe Stock to use in the commercial, free of charge.

“City Living NY is a non-profit, so Adobe helped us out tremendously,” Austin recalls. “The search on Adobe Stock was very straightforward. There was a great variety of clips that had an authentic feel and spoke to the right kind of audience. The Find Similar feature in particular ensured the students could find exactly what they needed. The resulting clip raises awareness of the importance of transitioning foster children into adulthood and what kind of assistance City Living NY provides to help settle these young adults into their new lives.”

At the end of the internships, 100 Roses from Concrete put together a Summer 2020 ebook that showcases every student who was involved in the program and links out to their resumes. The mentors can simply forward it to their contacts in business, post it on relevant sites like job boards, and also run partnerships with agencies to encourage direct recruiting of the Growth Initiative fellows. All of this has a further impact on the mentees — beyond the knowledge transfer of the internships, and the satisfaction of helping those that need it most, they’ve been able to increase their chances of making the right contacts and find a job.

A mentorship to promote social change

At Syneos, the diversity and inclusion program (which also features employee resource groups for women, veterans, and LGBTQIA+) has total backing within the company — from HR all the way up to the CEO, and this continues to evolve, thanks much to the efforts of Austin. This year, for the first time as a global corporation, Syneos recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month, with internal and external campaigns — and Syneos CEO Alistair Macdonald, signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Pledge, the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

“You need to understand that, because minority representation within the creative field is so small, it can sometimes be seen as a very small voice in a very large pool,” Austin explains. “But no matter how small it may seem, the only way that we’re going to make a difference is to keep pushing and to keep bringing up these issues. Someone who’s not part of a minority may be completely unaware of the different challenges that come about when minorities enter a specific field. So you should always have the freedom to speak up and be heard, no matter what level you are within the organization and how much experience you have.”

"So you should always have the freedom to speak up and be heard, no matter what level you are within the organization and how much experience you have."

For Austin, it was incredibly rewarding to mentor underrepresented young people. “I understand the routes that people of color have to take in order to make it to the next level. If we can begin to have corporations address the issues of systemic and systematic racism, I’m hoping that it will help us all understand that we have the ability to overcome this and progress,” he says.

“When I came into advertising and film, I didn’t know anyone in the industry who looked like me and could inspire me to enter the field. So the greatest reward for me is seeing these young diverse men and women have someone to look up to.”

The GROWTH Initiative 2021 has opened for applications and can be applied for here. Stay up to date and check out the class of 2020 in the GROWTH Is My Initiative ebook.