Natalie Morris, Flock Associates, Global Media & Marketing Consultant explains how marketers and agencies can embed sustainable business practices that drive inclusive marketing forward.

Based on the recently published IPA 2020 Agency Census, it’s clear that COVID-19 has unfortunately had a detrimental impact on ad industry representation, with female numbers hardest hit, the under 25s and over 50s in decline, and non-white C-suite representation at a mere 6.4%. While the results reflect an unprecedented year of challenges, it is also a reflection of how corporate short termism and, often unconscious, bias can affect the diversity of an industry and ultimately the work it produces. Moreover, it highlights the imperative need for greater support systems within organizations to enable diverse talent to exist and thrive.

So how do we address this? 

The answer to increasing diversity in the workplace is not purely recruitment, which can be treated as a compliance exercise, but rather ensuring all individuals irrespective of gender, race, or other social characteristics, feel genuinely valued, included and supported by the organization.  Diversity is counting numbers, inclusion is making those numbers count so having a continuous dialogue with employees is key to ensure the right support, training and mentoring programs are in place for everyone, not just a select few. Also welcoming recommendations from all staff will create a collaboratively driven and inclusive culture.   

So what does this mean for marketing?

As the ad industry still lacks in diversity, it’s not a surprise that the majority of the work it produces does as well. While strides are being made to address this through initiatives such as the WFA's Diversity & Inclusion Hub,  The Conscious Advertising Network, and The Inclusion Group, we are still at the start of the journey which requires a collective effort by all. As businesses emerge from COVID-19 and continue to re-build and re-structure, now is the time for marketers and agencies to embed sustainable business practices that drive inclusive marketing forward.

Some suggested guiding principles and key questions to ask to help take action.

Diversity and inclusion are everyone’s responsibility

For diversity and inclusion to genuinely become a part of a company’s culture, it needs to become everyone’s responsibility starting from the top down, with diversity and inclusion (D&I) KPIs included in employee reviews and D&I roles incorporated across the organization, not just within HR. As marketing communications can be a formidable force for good in shaping the views and behaviours of business and society, marketers are well placed in leading the charge.

Embrace ALL diversity at ALL times   

While gender and race are often the focal point and are important, there are seven other protected characteristics in the UK that businesses and marketing teams should be recognizing. Disability, as an example, is often overlooked yet according to the World Bank there are one billion people in the world with some form of disability and this should be reflected in today’s workplace and in modern advertising. As individuals, we are not defined by two characteristics but are multi-faceted, so appointing leads to champion each of our differences can help create more inclusive practices for the organization.  

Key questions to ask

To deliver inclusive marketing authentically, inclusion needs to start from within our own organizations and with our partners. A “top 10” list of questions that can help start the conversation.

Your organization
  1. Does your company truly embrace D&I through its actions, not just rhetoric?
  2. Does it have a D&I training program in place to help educate and foster inclusive behaviours and to stop unconscious bias?
  3. Does it have a mentoring program where ALL staff have the opportunity to be mentored and further their career?
Your partners
  1. Are your marketing team and your agency partners diverse and inclusive?
  2. Are you aware of how your partners recruit, support and develop diverse talent?
  3. Do your commercial contracts with your partners include D&I practices and policies?
Your marketing
  1. Are D&I objectives incorporated in your briefs to agency partners, media owners and tech providers?
  2. Do you have a diverse team of individuals developing briefs, evaluating and producing the work?
  3. Is your marketing reflective of the diversity in our society, not just in terms of gender and race but considering other characteristics?
  4. Are you targeting audiences using a diverse portfolio of media channels, not just those with highest indexes?

Hopefully these questions can help translate the theory of diversity and inclusion into action. If anything, I hope it fosters the continuous dialogue and learning we need on this vital subject to help elicit change.  If you would like further insights please see "Representation of a Nation" a recently published diversity and inclusion guide by ISBA and Flock Associates.