We’ve all read the op-eds and watched the panel discussions – diversity is a big, headline-grabbing issue that the creative industries are still, in 2018, trying to get its head round.
But amidst the headlines, scandals and controversies, perhaps the one thing that is missing from the conversation is a bit of nuance.
Chloe Gottlieb is in London to judge at the D&AD Awards, and she’s speaking at the festival about how diversity drives innovation and is, ultimately, a business imperative. But because Chloe, an experience designer by training, is a thoughtful kind of person, she’s also urging the industry to take account of what she calls ‘dimensional diversity’ and intersectionality. People bring all sorts of biases and lenses to their work, informed by factors including (but by no means limited to) gender, ethnicity, sexuality, neurodiversity, ability, disability, socioeconomic background and geography.
“I think if you look at this week, there are a lot of panels around diversity but it’s focused a lot around women and I think one of the ways the conversation needs to move forward is talking about people of colour, people with different abilities, neurodiversity, sexual orientation,” Chloe tells me. We discuss topics like ability and disability, money and social class – often overlooked topics, particularly in the advertising industry, which means that there are still unaddressed barriers to entry facing great untapped creative talent.
The excuse that improving diversity is just impossibly difficult is one that Chloe has little time for. An industry made up of creative people ought to find creative solutions. She suggests that leaders bring their own trades and crafts to the issue. For Chloe, as an experience designer, she thinks about how businesses can design workplaces where people can ‘bring their best self’ and thinks about the potential obstacles and likens that to a customer journey. Developers might think about how they can use their software skills to bring the power of tech to the issue.
But really, agencies just need to get out there. “The hardest but most valuable leap we can make as an industry is to reach out to creativity that hasn’t been trained at expensive schools and so I hate when people say ‘we’re having a hard time finding or filling our pipeline with diversity’. Well, where are you looking because there are millions of extremely creative, talented could-be-famous art directors, designers, experience designers in the world that just need a chance to train and we’re just not looking in the right places,” says Chloe.
“What happens if we just assume the most creative people are not going to go to art school or design school because they can’t afford it and start there. Then what happens? You just flip it. And, by the way, if you want to connect with culture and be a cool brand today why not work with people that are already resonating with culture?”
So agencies need to try harder to reach beyond the usual pools of talent to bring a greater range of creative perspectives and insights to a project. However, not all differences or barriers are obvious or visible – and not all work cultures are supportive enough to encourage people to reveal their lenses. A touching case in point, at the end of Chloe’s talk, one man in the audience talks about his autism and the fact that many on the autistic spectrum who do disclose this to their employers regret it.
Therefore, says Chloe later, it’s important that agencies create a culture where people feel safe to be themselves and where the perspectives they bring are seen as strengths.
“How do I get them [team members] to disclose their lenses?” she asks. “We don’t have a set way of doing it, but I think if you create an environment where people feel like they won’t be discriminated against and will feel comfortable, they’re more likely to disclose things that make them different, their differentness. Those are really important things to know. For example, you could be doing a campaign for neurodiversity or abilities and it would be great to have people on those teams that are tapped into those issues but you would never know unless they disclosed [it]. So, the first thing is creating an environment where people can be open and don’t feel like they have to be the same as everyone else.”
Moreover, agencies need to think hard about inclusion. It’s all very well recruiting untapped and untrained talent, but unless the culture is supportive and new arrivals are not made to feel like ‘aliens’ who don’t belong or cast adrift, struggling to make sense of impenetrable jargon, an agency may find it doesn’t retain its diversity. On top of that, those in positions of power who do the hiring and promoting should behave as allies and sponsors.
“It’s important, when you talk about diversity you have to talk about inclusion. Diversity is allowing space for difference, but inclusion is actually changing your culture to make people feel comfortable when they feel different and that’s even harder,” muses Chloe. “I think it goes back to understanding the power of voice and knowing the loudest, most alpha, most comfortable people take up a lot of space and leaders can do a lot to make space for people who are quieter or who are still getting comfortable.”
But perhaps the most important step in improving and harnessing a truly diverse team, argues Chloe, is to take account of one’s own ‘lenses’ – to acknowledge them and to probe them for any unconscious biases we might hold. During her own presentation, Chloe opens up about her own personal history, growing up in an ashram and her experiences as the mother of two Chinese American daughters.
After the keynote, Chloe expands on the issue of unconscious bias and the role that leaders need to play. She points out that it’s not just about recruitment but that in the areas of design or artificial intelligence, non diverse teams can easily and accidentally fill their products and algorithms with biases that alienate potential users.
“I think we all have unconscious bias, that’s the first part, realising that, and then peeling away what are the lenses I bring. People may or may not know what lenses affect how we see the world. Humans are complex, and you’re never going to remove all your biases and all your lenses, but self-awareness is a really important state and humility. You could step into a room and assume it’s not diverse and find out that half the men in there are gay or two of them might be trans men. Today you can’t assume anything and knowing that is the first step.”