Diversity and inclusion need a shake up, from the bottom up

As the conversation around diversity continues, so too does the pressure build on both agency principles and principals. Ian Millner, Global Chief Executive at Iris suggests two clear steps forward.

Ian Millner

Global Chief Executive Iris


As the conversation around diversity continues, the pressure continues to build on both agency principles and principals. Am I doing enough? How will I know? Who will decide?

As agencies, we regularly resort to talking each other down and pouring shame and scorn on one another.

It is clear to me that most current industry effort is totally justified and works to either shift the ‘supply’ part of the debate (opportunity creation) or the ‘demand’ side (salary increase) of the discussion.

The problem is that whilst most of these initiatives are collaborative and open, they don’t always ladder up to actionable change. And sometimes the all too important passion becomes an anger that pushes any healthy discussion underground.

I would like to suggest two clear and concrete steps forward:

1. Think inclusion first.

In the current climate it is very easy to create knee-jerk programmes, initiatives and roles. The most important condition, according to our experience, is a culture of inclusion, where over time people feel more comfortable, respected, listened to and empowered. This is about ‘bottom up’ change rather than a quick ‘top down’ initiative.

At Iris, passionate people spanning all levels of seniority are coming together and evolving the agency into a more diverse and inclusive place to work. Activities centred around education, awareness and celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, International Women’s Week, Black History Month, for example, are cultivating an environment for inclusion; a place for learning and open discussion. These activities are about helping people feel as comfortable in their work life as they do in their personal life, so that they’re encouraged to bring their authentic self to work. Passion and personality are so important in our industry, we should encourage both. It will improve everything about our businesses.

2. Award the team behind the award.

There is little doubt that awards are important in our industry. It is where the rubber hits the road, as we might have said ten years ago. It is the point when recognition, trust, pride and camaraderie meet. And where the people and the product become one. What if we measured and celebrated the diversity of the teams responsible for award-winning work? Awarding both the input and the output. The people and the product. Surely this is the most positive and useful way possible to show the power and impact of diversity on the work we do?

What if every single award entry at every single award show included a simple graph or logo displaying the ‘diversity’ of the team behind it? Creating such a ‘Diversity Index’ could be the key to showing the connection between diversity and the best, most interesting and authentic work. We all know that having a diverse team is the ‘right’ thing to do but isn’t it time to actually prove it?

Until we start to think a little differently about diversity and look to make it feel as comfortable and natural as possible whilst directly linking it to our output, our work, we may continue to jump from one frustrated agency initiative to another.

Guest Author

Ian Millner

Global Chief Executive Iris


Ian is Iris’ Global Chief Exec and founded the agency back in 1999 aiming to create an alternative to the traditional agencies. 20 years later, Iris is a growing global creative innovation network that specialises in helping clients understand and respond to future opportunity and has over 1,000 people in 17 locations working with clients such as Samsung, adidas and Starbucks.

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