How can the industry push for progress on equality and inclusivity?

Lorraine Jennings, Director of Wellbeing Services & Culture Change at NABS offers practical tips towards helping to create an equal and inclusive culture.

Lorraine Jennings, NABS

Director of Wellbeing Services and Culture Change


Many of us are concerned about systemic inequality in adland, and rightly so. This year’s events have mobilised us into discussing how to make our industry inclusive, and that’s encouraging. But are we taking enough appropriate action? Do we actively know how to make change happen, to ensure we create cultures where people from different backgrounds can truly flourish and belong?

NABS, as the support organisation for wellbeing in our industry, sees inclusivity as central to peoples’ wellbeing and mental health. Yet stats from Media for All (MEFA) demonstrate that there’s much work to do, certainly as far as Black, Asian and other ethnic talent is concerned. Contrast the 13% of our industry who come from diverse backgrounds with the 41% level of representation across London.

So, what can we do?

Listening, reflecting and learning are essential to effect lasting change; we need to avoid short-termism.

Lorraine Jennings

Listen to understand

Change is difficult. It’s hard work. It involves tough conversations and new levels of honesty. It’s not just about getting uncomfortable; it’s about being brave and vulnerable enough to lean into those hard conversations, to share your experiences and feelings and to hear those of your colleagues. We know this first-hand at NABS. Like many organisations, we’re working to ensure that we’re an  inclusive organisation for our team, those we work with and those we support.

Our D&I working group, a volunteer group of NABS employees, is currently inputting into our strategy. We’ve had some emotional and difficult conversations. There’s frustration that we’re not moving quickly enough, balanced with an acknowledgement that we need to be thoughtful and considered in every step we take. Listening, reflecting and learning are essential to effect lasting change; we need to avoid short-termism.

Understand that discrimination is devastating. It can ruin wellbeing and wreck entire careers. If you stop people from bringing their true selves to work, stress, unhappiness, isolation and exhaustion increase as people hide key parts of themselves. Clearly, these factors impede on someone’s ability to perform in their roles.

Go deeper than looking at people through one lens. Intersectionality is more than just a word. People’s backgrounds are woven from more than one strand; this isn’t about putting people into neat boxes.

Ask someone how they’re feeling 

Examine how you can create an inclusive culture while we work remotely and how COVID is impacting on marginalised groups. For example, women working from home with little or no childcare. Ask your employees about their challenges and then work to find solutions; flexibility is key.

Understand how systemic racism is affecting people. George Floyd’s murder and the aftermath of this dreadful event have been incredibly painful for Black people in particular. This trauma has led to anger, anxiety, fear and more, not helped by COVID. Those affected need tailored emotional support. Be proactive; regularly ask people how their wellbeing is. You don't need a trigger to ask somebody how they're feeling. It’s good practice to habitually ask everyone how they're doing.

Listen to the experiences of those who face inequality and work out what you can do about it on both an organisational and individual level. Discrimination comes in many forms, from systemic injustice to microaggressions. Some people will have been told they’re not suitable for a particular role because of their background. Others will have felt pressure to dial down their personalities for fear of being cast into an unflattering stereotype.

If the leadership team and I are to do anything different, we need to hear difficult things.

Lorraine Jennings

No progress without challenge

Educate others on more subtle injustices, for example repeated use of the wrong language. A build-up of microaggressions can lead to trauma. If you’re a bystander or someone in a position of power who was witness to it, you have the power to disarm the person who committed the microaggression. Explain the negative impact of the behaviour/language has and could make a person feel. Such an intervention can be done early and in a friendly and supportive way. One of our tasks at NABS is to find language that helps bystanders challenge with kindness to elicit positive change, rather than a panicked, ‘you can’t say that!’

Invite challenge and accept it gracefully. In our D&I working group meetings, my team are open about where they think leadership could improve. It’s important that they’re able to speak frankly and that I’m able to receive their points with a growth mindset. There is no progress without challenge. If the leadership team and I are to do anything different, we need to hear difficult things. I’m reliant on and grateful for the group’s honesty and I have a duty to actively listen, acknowledge and act as well as support those who are being so open in our meetings.

Leadership is where change at organisational and individual level intersects. Whether you lead a team or a whole business, your actions and attitude set the tone. Become a visible ally and actively ask your line managers to do the same. Role modelling is key; influence and lead consciously.

Finally, embrace the huge opportunity we have here. Yes, it’s a commercial issue. As MEFA mentor Aaron Raybe said at a recent NABS panel talk, People Who Look Like Me, your bottom line depends on diversity. But it’s also about the chance to create an environment where we can all bring our true selves to work. We can do that now and we can get it right.

Contact NABS’ Advice Line on 0800 707 6607 between 9am – 5.30pm (weekdays) or email support@nabs.org.uk for tailored advice and guidance, whatever your level or experience. We aim to respond to all calls and emails within 24-48 hours.

Guest Author

Lorraine Jennings, NABS

Director of Wellbeing Services and Culture Change,


Lorraine Jennings is Director of Wellbeing Services and Culture Change at NABS, leading on diversity and inclusion within the organisation as well as the strategic development of NABS' essential services. Lorraine is part of the timeTo initiative to eradicate sexual harassment and wrote its Code of Conduct, which gives guidance on the issue to organisations across advertising and marketing.

Related Tags

Inclusion Equality