Voices

Diversity will be everyone’s business after lockdown

Asad Dhunna, Founder of the Unmistakables believes that, as COVID-19 dismantles business as usual, having diverse voices in the room has never been more vital.

Asad Dhunna, The Unmistakables

Founder

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Up until recently diversity and inclusion has been waiting quietly in a silo. Floating somewhere between HR and CSR, efforts to incorporate ‘difference’ of any kind, be it age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or ability, have not been given the focus and budgets they deserve. With COVID-19 dismantling ‘business as usual’ in all industries and all countries, this is about to change. 

Let’s start with the case for creativity. Marketers across the world have either been cancelling campaigns, reducing budgets or letting their customers know they are there for them, even if their customers had forgotten who they were in the first place. Readers of IPA’s ‘Lemon’ will rub their hands in glee at the multiple, and frightfully similar, left-brained public service announcement adverts. Collectively, their corona-conformity makes a strong case for creative right-brain thinking and having diverse voices in the room will be vital to that.

Now is the time to go back to the basics of understanding what’s really happening in society and work out how to be relevant in all of our customers’ minds.

Asad Dhunna

Getting further away from the frontline 

Our industry struggles with different perspectives and voices, however. The IPA’s latest Agency Census shows that there are fewer BAME people in UK agencies than last year, and the targets for women in senior positions is still some way from being met. It’s no wonder, then, that 72% of people feel the majority of advertising does not reflect the world around them, while 63% didn’t see themselves represented in most advertising. If the people making the work aren’t represented, then how will the people they’re trying to reach be reflected? 

There’s a danger that the marketing sector is going to get even further away from the frontline and is at risk of navel-gazing. We only have to take the experience of lockdown to see the trajectory we could be heading in. We have all had to adjust, but it’s fair to say that the life of a marketer right now is a relatively easy ride, cocooned in the comfort of Zoom calls and ‘quarantinis’, and getting further away from the reality of what’s going on in the world. There’s a duty on us to stay grounded and relevant. 

Going from mainstream to BAMEstream

To be grounded, we need to hear from the harder-to-reach groups. The statistics show that people from BAME backgrounds have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic: 63% of all those who have died of COVID-19 within the medical profession are from ethnic minority backgrounds; 34% of more than 4,800 critically-ill patients with COVID-19 identified as Black, Asian or minority ethnic. These percentages are vastly out of kilter with the percentage of BAME in the NHS and society as a whole. 

There is a huge swath of society that is experiencing lockdown in a tragically different manner, and if we try to resort to returning to bright, positive adverts that either sell things that no-one can afford or are simply misguided to the reality of people’s experiences right now, then marketers risk renewed calls of being ‘tone deaf’. To prevent this, we have to look beyond the mainstream narrative of what we’re reading or watching. Now is the time to go back to the basics of understanding what’s really happening in society and work out how to be relevant in all of our customers’ minds. 

Either we can stand by and let creativity falter, or we can take a lead in guiding organisations through the change bracing for the storm early on.

Asad Dhunna

Making diversity everyone’s business

In 1942, economist Joseph Schumpeter coined ‘the gale of creative destruction’. He described it as the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionises the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” I would argue that our industry is facing a mutation like no other, and either we can stand by and let creativity falter, or we can take a lead in guiding organisations through the change bracing for the storm early on. 

To get there we need to make diversity everyone’s business. That means not considering it an add-on to a campaign or contained to an HR initiative. It means truly understanding and reaching new audiences, the very audiences that are being hardest hit by the biggest crisis of our time. 

Guest Author

Asad Dhunna, The Unmistakables

Founder,

About

Asad runs The Unmistakables, a consultancy made up of minorities. The company makes organisations and campaigns more representative of modern society both inside and out and works with the likes of the England Cricket Board, Barnardo’s, Openreach and Unilever. He was previously the Director of Communications for Pride in London and has held senior positions at a number of marketing and communications agencies.

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Diversity Inclusion