More Than Representation, Culturally Diverse Teams in Ad Agencies Are a Matter of Competitiveness
For UK ad agencies, diversity and inclusion go far beyond doing the ‘right thing.’ Research has found that companies with culturally and ethnically diverse teams are 33% more likely to financially outperform than the industry median. And while marketing agencies in the UK have come a long way in terms of inclusion in the last decade, much still has to be done.
In fact, the latest annual Agency Census by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), which included data from 2019, reported a decrease in ethnic minority representation. At board level, 4.7% of C-suite executives identify as BAME, down from 5.5% in 2018, whilst the figure for overall employees stands at 13.7%, down by 0.1%. At junior level, though, 17.7% belong to an ethnic minority.
Far more than a symbolic gesture
Successive studies have found a significant link between diversity, mainly in the areas of gender and ethnicity, and innovation, and there is widespread consensus on the positive impact that the inclusion of different perceptions, skills and experiences have on an agency’s creative process. But for Jan Gooding, Director of Global Inclusion at British insurance company Aviva, that is not the end of the line.
Speaking to trade magazine Marketing Week, Gooding said that diversity makes a team more emotionally intelligent and empathetic towards different audiences. From his point of view, no marketing organisation is going to succeed in the future if they lack a culture that goes in-line with a society that is increasingly accepting of diversity.
UK brands and ad agencies alike have also started to realise the financial benefits of targeting the previously overlooked minority markets. For instance, the purchasing power of BAME consumers currently stands at £300 billion, yet these groups continue to be ignored by mainstream media and advertisers, as only 1 in 20 ads featured someone from an ethnic background in 2019. For an agency to adequately include and engage minorities, the creative team has to reflect the diversity of the audience.
Tackling structural issues within agencies
Data from the latest IPA census showed a wide gap between ethnic minority representation at employee and leadership levels, and this can negatively impact the acquisition of BAME talent for ad agencies. According to Sarah Jenkins, Managing Director at Saatchi & Saatchi London, this is an industry where confidence is everyone’s ‘secret weapon.’ “If you are the minority in the room, that currency can be harder to come by and build,” she explains.
“Being different often makes being confident harder and BAME talent will almost certainly be the most visible ‘different’ in many of their agency cohorts,” she added. “The feeling of exposure, the weight of expectation and sense of representation can make confidence a horribly fragile commodity. And what hope is there to reach the boardroom without a bucketload of self-belief?”
Unconscious bias at the recruiting stage also hinders progress on BAME inclusion. In an interview for The Drum, Quiet Storm CEO Rania Robinson mentioned that tackling this type of prejudice is not about doing the right thing morally; it leads to better campaigns by making room for different points of view. It also provides thinking that helps brands stand out from their competitors and connect with the whole audience, not just a certain segment of it.
For 2020, the IPA set a goal of 15% BAME representation in leadership roles, and 25% among new recruits. Next spring, we will find out whether or not these goals have been met, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the ethnic make-up of the industry.
Diversity and inclusion benefit ALL
The days of a ‘one size fits all’ market approach are over; for any company to stay competitive, all sectors of society have to be taken into account and all voices have to be heard. Only by overcoming unconscious bias during recruitment, and providing all employees with equal growth opportunities, ad agencies will be able to fully benefit from BAME talents.
If you would like to receive guidance on where your company currently stands in terms of diversity and inclusion, and what can be done to strengthen your policies, talk to us!