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Diversity within advertising
24 JULY 2019 - LDN

Diversity within advertising

Why bother?

Companies are keen to broadcast the importance of diversity, yet fail to understand and tackle the core issues that persist: diversification isn’t about filling quotas, it's about equal opportunities. I was raised in a beautiful but isolated town in Devon which, as a mixed race person, made developing an understanding of other cultures and my place within them confusing while growing up - due to an almost total lack of recognition or sensitivity about racial issues. As a teenager, not really understanding where I belonged within this society, I found the safest option was to avoid racial conflict. The irony was never lost on me though, when each year I was bustled into every photograph for the school prospectus - the girls’ rounders team being the exception - as a diversity tick-box exercise for the school. I was soon to learn that this was a microcosm of how racial issues are dealt with in the ‘real world’.

In 2016, the IPA set targets of 15% BAME representation by 2020; and from 2017 to 2018 we’ve seen a 0.9% rise across all employees, and an incremental 0.8% rise in C-suite executives. Although this bodes well for years to come, these targets aren’t on course to be met. Furthermore, the 2018 BAME report yielded the lowest ever response rate from UK ad agencies to date - 105 of 230 contacted. As a consequence, mandatory data submissions are now being arranged by the IPA which sends a clear diversity message to all agencies. However, they must also be cautious about falling into the trap of employing BAME people purely to reach targets.

The big question is: does diversity actually improve output?

According to McKinsey, “…companies in the top quartile for diversity on executive teams were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability”. This should be a call to action for CEO’s and leaders to question current ways of working and hiring to ensure that for the next generation, routes into agencies will be available on merit for people of all backgrounds.

I’m on my placement year as an Account Executive at Forever Beta. I have been fortunate enough to be involved in many initiatives that encourage young people from all walks of life to consider a career in advertising. Last September, we hosted an IPA ‘Advertising unlocked’ event, for business and media students from a nearby school. The aim was to introduce them to every aspect of a career in advertising, with a specific focus on creativity for media students, and the client-side approach to marketing for the business students. The event was a success, and even inspired some students to apply to the agency for work experience this summer.

This success has led Forever-Beta to team up with Ideas Foundation this August, a non-profit organisation that helps connect people with the creative industries. We are inviting anyone who is intrigued by creativity in advertising, no matter their background, for a 3-day workshop to gain first-hand experience of the creative roles within an agency.

Events like these not only give young talent invaluable knowledge of the industry, they help to improve the pipeline of people trying to enter the industry, leading to a more diverse talent pool. Creating a diverse environment allows for a wider range of voices to feel comfortable sharing ideas, knowing there’s the correct platform for them to be heard. Moreover, agency workforces need to reflect the population they are trying to appeal to, a diverse workforce in this industry ensures that the representation of race and culture in advertising is executed sensitively and appropriately.

This makes me consider, how can I influence an isolated town or an industry that lacks diversity?

By opening a conversation. Businesses that consider diversity a compelling vision, will be able to access the largest range of talent, ultimately improving customer orientation. More BAME representatives throughout agencies but especially in C-suite positions will improve the fairness of opportunities given and create workplaces thriving on variety and diversity. Likewise, isolated towns could see diverse new ideas transform their communities. To become a more complete society, we need to make sure voices from every background are heard and listened to.

Thomas Scadding
Account Executive, Forever Beta