Madmenwomen of Color at General Mills

Last Friday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on a decision by General Mills, one of the nation’s largest advertisers, to impose race and gender quotas on the advertising agencies it uses:

The Golden Valley-based foodmaker wants the creative departments in agencies bidding for its business to be staffed at least half by women and 20 percent by people of color.
In revealing its standard, General Mills executives said they want the people who create its advertising to be more reflective of the people who consume their products.

If there are any problems with General Mills’s quotas, they weren’t mentioned in the celebratory Strib article. But my colleague at Center of the American Experiment, Mitch Pearlstein, pointed out an embarrassing fact: General Mills’s own leadership team doesn’t conform to its newfound race and gender standards:

According to the company’s website, General Mills’ “leadership” is composed of 19 men and eight women, with three of the men and two of the women racial minorities, or so it would appear.

If you find the term “so it would appear” in this context awkward and perhaps offensive, so do I. But so be it with human bean counting.

Question: What if the federal government — say, the Army or the Navy — demanded that senior leadership at General Mills, as well as at Kellogg’s and Post, be at least 50 percent women? This, or their pitches to sell boatloads of Cheerios, Rice Krispies and Honey Bunches of Oats would be thrown overboard? Same thing if their senior minority executives didn’t constitute 20 percent?

Good question! General Mills says that it wants “the people who create its advertising to be more reflective of the people who consume [its] products.” But isn’t it far more important that the people who run the company be “reflective of the people who consume [its] products”? And if General Mills, hiring on merit, finds that it has more men in senior leadership positions than women, why can’t advertising agencies do the same?

It is also hard to understand why race and gender quotas should, among General Mills’s vendors, be imposed only on ad agencies. How about its accountants? Shouldn’t any accounting firm that works for General Mills be 50% female and 20% minority? How about the companies that sell food processing equipment for General Mills’s production facilities? And what about General Mills’s factories themselves? The Strib article notes that “[a]dvertising is one of several industries, like high-tech and manufacturing, with significant gender and racial imbalances.” Shouldn’t the company do its part to remedy gender “imbalances” in manufacturing by hiring 50% women in its own plants?

Of course, if you are looking for gender and race imbalances to remedy, what better place to start than farming, a notoriously male-dominated field–white-dominated, too, when you are talking about grains. Why shouldn’t the companies who sell wheat and corn to General Mills for the company’s cereals be required to source their grains 50% from female farmers and 20% from farmers of color?

When it comes to remedying race and gender disparities, General Mills is a piker. The company should start at home, beginning with its board of directors and senior management. From there it is on to its hundreds of vendors, its own factories, and the final frontier–Midwestern farms. Once you start discriminating on the basis of race and gender, it is hard to know when to stop.