Thought Leadership

In the midst of the economic and emotional fall out of the coronavirus crisis, how can the industry push for progress on equality and inclusivity?

Equality and inclusivity has to start internally before businesses can offer advice or slogans externally.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE

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Representation matters, that much we all know. A myriad of data points signal the fact that diverse teams create better work which ultimately impacts a business’ bottom line, similarly for the better. And yet enacting a situation in which diversity can thrive is a slow and, for many companies, seemingly difficult undertaking.

D&I is so often seen as a side hustle, as something that people must choose to prioritise and work on because it matters to them, not because it should matter to the business.

But it does feel like things are beginning to change; deeds are starting to follow words and action is happening. Whether that’s agency internships working to open up the industry’s talent pool to people from every walk of life, or leadership teams looking around the room and realising they don’t reflect the world they’re trying to reach. 

Equality and inclusivity has to start internally before businesses can offer advice or slogans externally. It’s about getting your own house in order to create a strong foundation on which to build a better company and marketing in turn.

To explore this topic further, we asked a selection of industry leaders, in the midst of the economic and emotional fall out of the coronavirus crisis, how can the industry push for progress on equality and inclusivity? 

The starting point, which often goes amiss, is to dig deep into the lifestyles of new and diverse audiences you've often overlooked.

Arif Miah

Arif Miah

Arif Miah, mud orange.JPG

Co-Founder & Creative Strategy Director

mud orange

The current push for equality and inclusivity is flat and will remain frail across the industry if we continue to approach it as an ‘initiative’. This approach leads to ‘inclusive’ brand activity looking like a brainchild of CSR departments which lacks creativity. 

Progressive activity is usually seen as something "we ought to do" and is fuelled by the shame of not doing anything. But these attitudes do a huge disservice to the massive opportunity that lays idle to not only drive forward the opportunity for brands to connect with diverse consumers but to also move the needle forward on inclusivity. 

Most brands assume that to drive equality and inclusivity in their communications means they need to create elaborate statements, usually in the form of ads, but that often results in very little depth and ends up being expensive. 

The industry needs to reframe our understanding of equality and inclusivity by approaching it properly, like we would any other customer audience or personas. Brands need to build segmented and informed strategies to ingrain it within the marketing eco-system and product roadmaps, which is where it actually belongs. Of course, a Lamborghini struggles to turn corners in busy inner-city streets, but on the race track it performs. By placing multicultural moments next to the Christmases and Valentine days, you provide it with room to be treated with due care. 

The starting point, which often goes amiss, is to dig deep into the lifestyles of new and diverse audiences you've often overlooked. Understand the role your brand can play, and build in the seasons, moments and pulses within the marketing calendar to develop a sustained approach that actually works and matters. Recognise that your assumptions are likely to be wrong and your brand’s insights data might be set up to fail by not accounting for and appreciating the nuances you need to understand. 

It may be daunting to challenge yourself, and it doesn't help that most white-dominant agencies find it just as daunting. To make what feels like leaps into baby steps, venture beyond and expand agency rosters to reflect the very people who you've long avoided eye contact with, in order to initiate digestible brand activity with meaningful substance.  

If anything, 2020 has shown us is that real change takes time, but companies need to be braver in their choices and bolder in their actions.

Sabrina Coogan

Sabrina Coogan

Sabrina, MC&T.jpg

Account Director & Head of D&I

Mc&T

What the pandemic has highlighted to us all is the disparity between people, race, gender, sexuality, and class. The recent spotlight on these issues has shown that companies need to double-down on the promises made to address equality and inclusivity, or risk seeming opportunistic and ineffective. 

Inclusive workplaces for diverse talent need to be placed at the forefront of the agenda. The questions that businesses need to ask is whether it’s fostering the right company culture to allow existing diverse talent to thrive. When it comes to hiring, there also needs to be recognition of the untapped pool of diverse creative talent outside of the mainstream and companies need to be willing to look elsewhere to search for talent, and if need be, make the case to clients. 

The ​responsibility of equality in the workplace lies at the door of leaders and management, whilst employees, stakeholders and allies need to hold them accountable if the industry is to see any change. 

We can’t take our foot off the pedal. If anything, 2020 has shown us is that real change takes time, but companies need to be braver in their choices and bolder in their actions.

Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t just be something we build internally, it’s something we should be promoting in everything we sell.

Ed Tan

Ed Tan

Ed Tan, Eulogy.jpg

Senior Digital Account Executive

Eulogy

Fighting for diversity and inclusion is tough at the best of the times, but consider this. Never before has diversity, in all its forms, been such a driving force to everyone. Agencies, clients, the media, and consumers are all asking, ‘how can we do better?’ 

Somewhat ironically, our industry now needs to figure out how to sell itself. The push for greater diversity and inclusion doesn’t begin just internally within our own agencies, but crucially needs demonstrating in our work for clients. 

So often, briefs have already settled on a certain audience group without seemingly any supporting data. Urban dwelling Caucasian millennials being particularly popular. 

But, on the other hand, all too often agency brainstorms reflect those predisposed client demands by filling the room with equally as limited participants. 

We should be enforcing diversity in every single campaign we suggest, both in terms of the solutions we create and our ability to challenge unconscious bias in briefs. 

It’s time to start changing things, one brief at a time. Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t just be something we build internally, it’s something we should be promoting in everything we sell. 

Diversity and inclusion isn’t optional. It’s not a ‘job to do’ that can be dropped because companies are struggling.

Amelia Wood

Amelia Wood

Amelia, Now.JPG

Senior Strategist

Now

It’s a well-documented fact that disadvantaged groups have suffered disproportionately as a result of the pandemic. Women’s jobs have been 1.8 times more vulnerable than men’s jobs across the period (McKinsey), and the disproportionate number of BME deaths in healthcare workers has been blamed on “systemic discrimination”. Add the fact that D&I has fallen down the business agenda this year, and the risk of equality regression is frightening. 

But diversity and inclusion isn’t optional. It’s not a ‘job to do’ that can be dropped because companies are struggling. If we as an industry exist to create ideas which appeal to a truly diverse population, then we as clients and agencies need to have diversity baked into our businesses.

First, an organisation needs to understand their data, to identify parts of the business where diversity is an issue. Then, set tangible targets for improvements, with a timeframe and a proper strategy to create change. For example, too many senior men could mean a commitment to hire a woman for the next vacancy.

Let’s also shake up recruitment. Embrace the fact that Zoom interviews can mute our biases. Dust down the CVs of people who couldn’t access your physical office because of disabilities, lower-income backgrounds, or caring responsibilities. 

For agencies, why not provide virtual work experience open to anyone, with recorded briefings and client meetings. Or broadcast training sessions online to support people trying to break into marketing.

Everything has changed. Let’s hope that’s true too for diversity. We’ll all be better for it. 

We should empower those with lived experiences of marginalisation, giving them the resources and platforms to help lead the way.

Alicja Lloyd

Alicja Lloyd

Alicja Lloyd, Feed.jpg

Deputy CEO

Feed

*answer attributed to the DE&I team at Feed

Despite being the year that stopped the world in its tracks, 2020 has also been a progressive time for positive change. We’ve seen communities stand together on matters of racial prejudice, trans rights, sustainability, and mental health. As leaders in the creative industries, it is incumbent upon us to keep the momentum going.

At our very core, marketers are storytellers. We are uniquely situated to tell marginalised stories on a global scale and create opportunities for more people to see themselves reflected in the media they consume. In telling those stories, we must also reject tokenism.

It is up to us, as managers, to create the culture internally that we wish to see reflected in the world around us. Recruitment may seem the natural place to begin creating meaningful shifts towards more inclusive workplaces, and hiring diverse talent at every level is, of course, vital, but organisations will fall short unless employee development is consciously inclusive as well. And we must be careful not to limit our definition of ‘diverse’ to mean only gender, race and sexuality. Economic background, ability, age, and neurodiversity should also be included.

We shouldn’t ever shy away from tough conversations, especially during a pandemic when team members who belong to marginalised communities may have been hit harder this year financially, socially, mentally, and physically. We should empower those with lived experiences of marginalisation, giving them the resources and platforms to help lead the way. The creative industry has the opportunity to set the stage for radical listening, to take a step back and create opportunities for marginalised communities to share their stories and thrive. Let’s make 2020 the catalyst for long lasting change.

I’m sorry for the sandwich shops, but once COVID is over, let’s keep WFH normal for everyone. Equality depends on it.

Toby Hutchins

Toby Hutchins

Toby Headshot.jpg

Business Director

Republic of Media

WFH = Equality + inclusivity.

Working 9-5.30 in an office, or 7-7, if you include commuting/overtime, is not compatible with family life. Many new parents, particularly mothers, come back from maternity leave and never really make work, ‘work’. Feeling like they compromise both their families and jobs by trying to give both things their all.

Result = less females in senior positions, loss of talent to more inclusive industries.

Working Dad’s often see little of their children during the week. How many would like to balance the parenting, equalling out both the personal and professional between both parents, but don’t get the chance to?

Result = gender pay gap, archetypal roles at home and in the work place.

The five day office working week is not aligned with modern living, nor the future direction of the economy. Old-fashioned attitudes to a ‘working week’ die hard, as such COVID has been a ‘test&learn’ for WFH we would have never of got otherwise. What an opportunity it is.

I’m sorry for the sandwich shops, but once COVID is over, let’s keep WFH normal for everyone. Equality depends on it.

Related Tags

Inclusion Equality