Open Arms Not Just Open Doors
First published on BITE
Diversity is an open goal.
In a world where people resent being bombarded with thousands of sales messages every day, we need fresh thinking to keep up with advancing tech and changing consumer habits.
But authentic diversity is not as simple as – “It’s a TikTok brief, let’s chuck a bunch of young people on it”. Or casting black and brown people in racially utopian ads that lack similar diversity behind the scenes.
Adland’s view on diversity needs to be a little bit more… diverse.
A 2022 survey by Deloitte consumers confirmed that ‘57% of customers were more loyal to brands that commit to addressing social inequities’.
The same survey showed that high-growth brands are almost twice as likely ‘to have Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) related talent objectives than negative-growth brands’.
Adland’s view on diversity needs to be a little bit more… diverse
McKinsey’s research into the matter has too once again titled diversity a ‘win’. The latest analysis reaffirms a strong business case for both gender diversity and ethnic and cultural diversity in corporate leadership—and shows that this business case continues to strengthen. The most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability.
It’s safe to say, a more diverse and progressive customer base expects the brands they buy to share their values: to ‘get’ them. So to have diversity throughout an organisation and its advertisers is just common sense, right?
You’d think so. But real progress is still slow. So how do we speed things up?
It starts with opening doors. If the industry is serious about diversity, it shouldn’t be this difficult or this jammy for talent to find a way in.
Speaking from experience, both of us credit luck the most in our journey to finding a job in the ad world, despite how hard we worked. And that is the problem.
To illustrate the point, here are our journeys.
I’m Armna, a Pakistani creative with a green passport who works in an ad agency in London. I’m the only person I know of that can type this sentence out as a description of themselves. I don’t know the percentage share that gives people from my background in diversity metrics, but it definitely feels disappointingly low. I know I would have never been able to find a job as a junior creative if it wasn’t for Covid-19. Yes, as contradictory as it sounds, that’s true. It was the remote/hybrid working model put in place that enabled the dreaded ‘visa conversation’ to be pushed forward enough so that the work speaks first. And then, if it wasn’t for one ECD that said to HR ‘I like this team, they’re talented, I don’t know how but get them in’ I would have probably still been in Pakistan, but definitely not a part of the ad industry.
My path is one that unfortunately can’t be a roadmap for others because it’s not one supported by systems in place. It was carved out by people willing to step up and offer support by going around the system. It was the exception, not the rule. Hence, certain rules need to be re-written if we are to make significant progress in creating a diverse workforce.
’m Osagie, a London-born creative, who was raised in a council flat by my Nigerian immigrant mum. I’m also a father to two children under 6. That’s a few boxes in Diversity Bingo. My journey to becoming a creative at The&Partnership was not linear – I went from casino croupier to post-production runner to video editor to DR ad creative/director, with lots of call centre and pub work in between. It was at the last of those jobs that I was inspired to have a crack at the big shiny world of brand ads. But it seemed to be a closed shop – despite having 20+ ads on my reel, I had a fairly niche portfolio.
After discovering my favourite recent work had been made by ex-School of Communications Arts 2.0 alumni, the school was on my radar, but it wasn‘t until the pandemic hit and the portfolio course was made available online, that I could think of applying. I was selected and so joined as a mature student, winning Black, Yellow and White D&AD New Blood pencils and rebooting my career.
The point of these mini-bios is to highlight the challenges some of us face in getting past the red tape on the door.
That is why, for entry-level roles specifically, we need systems in place that break the mould and look for non-traditional thinkers.
So, let’s embrace agency partnerships with state schools that target creative students via alternate pathways to the traditional ‘A-Levels-then-Uni’ route.
Let’s celebrate ad schools like School of Communication Arts 2.0 and Brixton Finishing School that provide scholarships and bursaries to people that may not be able to study otherwise.
Let’s create opportunities for talent that might want to switch careers later in life.
Let’s promise to make a better effort to nurture and promote diverse talent, wherever it’s found.
And lastly, let’s use technology and the hybrid model of working to benefit those that work better because of it. This includes international creative teams with visa issues, placement teams that can’t move to expensive areas of the country and everyone we can now have access to that we didn’t before.
We’re not saying we need to rid the industry of white cis-gender middle class-males that have been privately educated, but we need to stop accepting them as the one predominant face of advertising.
Once you’ve done the important job of attracting and hiring talent from diverse backgrounds, you also need to do the necessary job of shaping a workplace experience that makes them want to remain and thrive. Simply put, we need to open our arms, not just doors.
Yes, creating a representative workforce should be the goal of all agencies, but hiring diverse talent isn’t enough. Once you’ve brought people in that come from different backgrounds and look at the world from a unique lens, make sure that their voices are heard and utilised to benefit the work. Tap into their identity-related knowledge and experiences as resources for learning.
Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand. So, we should forego the old practice of hiring through word of mouth and weave inclusivity into the hiring process. We should go, find and nurture talent from far and wide. If we’re not actively looking for diamonds in the rough, we could lose future superstars to other industries, or worse – have creative minds decide not to pursue creative endeavours.
It’s with these things in mind that we’ve signed up to High-Vis Creatives – a role model programme for under-represented creatives at The & Partnership – with a plan to show the coming generations of creatives that whoever they are, they are welcome.
But let’s do more.
The fight for diversity and inclusion in the creative space now has technology and innovation at its side, so let’s push things forward faster and further. Together.