Voices

How can we ensure equal representation isn’t also a victim of Coronavirus?

If companies treat equality as a nice to have rather than a business imperative, we will all lose out, writes Olivia Stancombe, Senior Strategist at Forever Beta.

Olivia Stancombe, Forever Beta

Senior Strategist

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We have all had our lives disrupted to varying degrees, and I’m of course sensitive to the insecurity and challenges this pandemic has created. But the issues of diversity and inclusion haven’t gone away, so neither should the need to do something about them.

Yet one thing this situation has revealed is that these issues remain a secondary agenda. As Richard Miles at The Diversity Standards Collective observes, “most companies have just pushed D&I aside during COVID, meaning D&I is actually looked at as a ‘nice to have’ rather than critical to your business needs.”

That strikes me as a great shame when, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, we see these exact issues making headlines. Reports have revealed that 1 in 3 key workers in the US are women, yet women continue to earn 81.1% of their male counterparts. Here in the UK the BAME community is suffering disproportionately, with the government overlooking the fact that the community is more likely to live in multigenerational households or in densely populated areas, increasing their risk.

If anything, rather than COVID-19 overshadowing these issues, it is throwing them into even greater relief.

Miles also pointed to the inherent challenges of a self-isolating workforce: “We are now segregated to our own homes, which means we are not surrounded by different cultures and diverse opinions on a day-to-day basis like before, and we lean towards working in very linear groups to get the work done which can mean some opinions and voices are cut out.”

I believe that we should reignite momentum from the ground up. Diversity and inclusion are, I like to think, firmly on the so-called ‘agenda’; now we need to turn awareness into action. Rally like-minded people in your organisation, start a conversation, set clear goals and ask transparently for the help needed to achieve them.

But perhaps most importantly, foster an environment of unpunished curiosity, one that allows people to ask well-intentioned questions and learn something, rather than have the fear of retribution discourage them from engaging at all.   

My hope is that seeing into the homes, or rather the homelives, of my peers has levelled the playing field.

Rachel Pashley

Rachel Pashley

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Author of The New Female Tribes, Planning Lead Female Tribes & Group Planning Head

Wunderman Thompson

Perhaps an unforeseen impact of COVID and the resultant Zoom calls allowing us quite intimate access into the homes of our colleagues and managers, is its ability to visibly challenge some of the ideas we may have held about parenting and childcare.

For me, seeing my male colleagues sit on a conference call whilst their children offer their unfiltered, but often sage, wisdom has helped to remind me that men parent too. And maybe I shouldn’t carry around quite such a huge store of guilt that I’m not working hard enough/parenting hard enough/ creating hard enough - delete as appropriate.

We’re, mostly, all facing the same challenges, unless like friends of ours you managed to get locked down with you au pair, although whether the au pair shares this sense of lucky good fortune remains to be seen.

Having frank conversations with male colleagues agonising over the same work/parenting issues has also been illuminating. We share the same angst even if maybe the genders have not been quite equal in vocalising these concerns previously. And once these things have been witnessed or seen, it’s going to be very hard to un-see them.

For me, this new insight, intimacy, honesty, whatever you want to call it, has been refreshing; it’s shattered some of my preconceptions, if not my guilt. I’ll still carry that around because I’m a perfectionist and a worrier; it’s hardwired into me. But my hope is that seeing into the homes, or rather the homelives, of my peers has levelled the playing field. We can’t hide behind the stereotypes and assumptions so easily, and we also can’t cover our greys any longer. But that’s another issue altogether.

There was a reason equal representation was on your agenda in the first place and that’s because it made good business sense; that shouldn’t be forgotten or left behind.

Richard Miles

Richard Miles

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CEO & Co-Founder

The Diversity Standards Collective

I think the situation has had a negative effect. Even though many agencies and brands pre-coronavirus stated that diversity was ‘top of their agenda’ I think when something like this happens you realise it’s actually bottom of the pile. That’s not to say it should be in front of keeping your business and staff employed, because you have to keep your business alive. It is interesting however that most companies have just pushed D&I aside during COVID. This suggests to me that D&I is actually looked at as a ‘nice to have’ rather than critical to business needs.

We actually need to work harder to make sure that everyone in our companies has a voice and everyone sees the work that’s being produced in order to make sure it’s not just the opinion or creative ideas of certain types of people. 

I think one tip for this is to look at the faces on your video call. Are they diverse, is there an equal amount of opinions there of men, women and other types of people? If not, maybe bring someone else in that can just cast a different view on the discussion and hopefully spur everyone to think a little differently.

To get equal opportunities back on the agenda there needs to be the correct preparation and a solid strategy set amongst all your staff once we have overcome this. Most businesses have been affected by this isolation period, and It’s easy to flap and panic because there will be an ‘all hands-on deck’ attitude and a need to make money and get work out. But we have to remember to not rush, and to think about the bigger picture.

There was a reason equal representation was on your agenda in the first place and that’s because it made good business sense; that shouldn’t be forgotten or left behind. You don’t want to be producing work that isn’t thought through and realise in the long run it actually does more harm than good to your brand/agency. 

I think people need to look at the agenda they had set before this all happened, keep that agenda going and split those tasks amongst different people in your company. Yes there may be less people on certain parts and more on others, but at least every part of your business is being taken care of and you can begin to get back to where you once were in an intelligent and forward thinking way. 

Everyone is working flexibly, and parents are becoming adept at this; it’s a real opportunity to finally put to rest any negative preconceptions.

Enyi Nwosu

Enyi Nwosu

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Chief Strategy Officer

UM

Regressive attitudes around parenting, and particularly towards working mothers do still exist in adland. An industry survey UM completed recently in partnership with Advertising Week Europe revealed that over half (55%) of media sector employees see working mums as ‘part-timers’.

Part of the problem lies in the unconscious bias in this language. A recurring concern during reviews is that mums working part-time don’t feel they are able to devote sufficient time to their job, or their family. It’s a recipe for burn-out. However, ‘flexible working’ is viewed overwhelmingly as a positive across the sector and lockdown has finally swept aside any lingering doubts around its efficacy. It’s a subtle shift in language, but it could make all the difference. 

We’re left in a Catch-22 situation. Working mothers feel insecure and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; only 7% view working mums as senior leaders. But the status quo is unlikely to change until there are more women in senior roles, in the meantime we’ll continue to see an exodus of experience.

It goes without saying that the global pandemic affects us all and presents an opportunity for a media sector reset. Everyone is working flexibly, and parents are becoming adept at this; it’s a real opportunity to finally put to rest any negative preconceptions. Starting with home educating which, when family situations allow, must be a shared responsibility.

Guest Author

Olivia Stancombe, Forever Beta

Senior Strategist,

About

Olivia is a Strategist and Futurist who arrived at advertising via the worlds of design, luxury fashion and consumer trends consultancy. Named as one of Campaign's 'Faces to Watch: The Future of the Ad Industry 2017', she is an advocate for progress and an inclusive change in perspective in the industry. It is something she continues to drive the conversation on in her current role at Forever Beta.