‘The industry is moving in a positive direction, but there is still work to be done’

Tope Onanuga shares five key ways the industry can move toward greater inclusion

Tope Onanuga

Apprentice Strategist Manifest



For National Inclusion Week, I wanted to reflect on my own experiences navigating the industry as a black female who has had challenges. I enjoy the industry for its strategy, trying to work out the what and why, and how that can be used to come up with creative executions that tell a rich and impactful story that impacts consumers' lives. I am still hesitant to share my challenges as although the industry is moving in a good direction, I still don’t feel that it is truly representative and don’t know how much of an impact it has on my progress in my career.

When I say that the industry is moving in a positive direction, there have been strong examples of better inclusion, from running more adverts that are authentic and speak to the community in the right tone, to agencies such as The Purple Goat being set up providing a whole host of new opportunities and really shining a light on the disabled community.

However, there is still more work to be done for it to be truly inclusive. If every day in our walks of life we see many different communities, which provide immense benefits from being able to provide us with different perspectives making the world richer, then why should the industry be an exception?

Here are my key five takeaways that brands and agencies keep on improving inclusion in the industry. 

Providing opportunities 

Data from The IPA said there was more work to do on diversity, as women still only get just over one-third of executive jobs in the ad industry, while non-white individuals only occupy 11% of roles.

Time and time again accessibility has become an afterthought, making people with disabilities miss out on opportunities that they should have been given.

Tope Onanuga, Apprentice Strategist at Manifest

I was recently watching a speech by Viola Davis and one line that really stuck with me was, the only thing that separates women of colour is opportunity.

This resonates with me as I have been fortunate to be provided with various opportunities in my career so far, but certain opportunities are still challenging to get. It is important that the workplace offers opportunities as well as a nourishing environment to allow black females to grow and excel in the field.

I know the phrase ‘I didn't see people that look like me’ has been said many times before, but if you don’t see people like yourself how do you expect to grow? I also say that it is important for the opportunities to be seen across the board from junior to senior.  

Accessibility must not be an afterthought 

Time and time again accessibility has become an afterthought, making people with disabilities miss out on opportunities that they should have been given. As an agency or a client, accessibility should be one of the three top priorities on your list at the start of your projects and not just added at the end.

Content is made to reach a variety of audiences which everyone should be able to enjoy, and should not be inaccessible to people with disabilities. Ensuring that accessibility is seamless all across your forms of communications, which could be adding captions or alt text to your social media posts.

Accessibility should also be considered from a 360 perspective, not just ads but employment too, as statistics from scope showcase that disabled people are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people. 

Reasonable adjustments  

In the industry, I see many job applications that say that they are an inclusive employer that welcomes applications from diverse backgrounds. It is crucial that words are not just words but there is action behind it. Reasonable adjustments are a must; they allow disabled employees to be the best at their jobs, this can be from taking extra time with tests to accessing a chair with strong back support. There should be a range of adjustments as every disability is different. 

Keep the door open for conversations 

Another key takeaway for me is that there should be clear and open lines of communication. The workplace needs to be an environment where employees feel comfortable to share, so as an employer or a manager it is crucial that the right space is created that is welcoming and free of judgement. 

Take the lead and start conversations 

As an industry that is always changing and looking to be the leader, when it comes to certain areas such as technology and AI, it is important to take the lead and continue to showcase your work on inclusion throughout the year, it should not just be a one time thing. Make the commitment stick and keep on improving.

There are companies in the industry that I think are doing well and you can learn important lessons from, such as:

The 10,000 Interns Foundation - Champions underrepresented talent and promotes equity of opportunity offering students and grads paid internship opportunities across a range of UK industries.

The Purple Goat agency - Disability led, disability focused inclusive marketing agency in the world who are passionate about building out a community, an industry and looking to progress the authentic representation of disability in the process. 

SIC - Is a non-profit dedicated to closing the disability employment gap. Working with disabled and neurodiverse people.

Guest Author

Tope Onanuga

Apprentice Strategist Manifest


Tope Onanuga, currently working at Manifest, is a strategic thinker with a background in advertising and marketing. She explores her creativity through producing insightful digital content and has worked with a variety of brands from Channel4 to award-winning entertainment platform Levile, continuing to develop her voice as a writer. She is also an activist for disability rights.

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