Diversity, inclusion and representation are all massive talking points in the advertising industry, but with a recent IPA survey indicating that the UK has seen a backslide in gender and ethnic diversity, there’s a need for a more cohesive, collective effort. That’s why the Advertising Association, ISBA and IPA have come together to launch an industry-wide drive. Last week they announced the launch of the Inclusion Group
, a working group from across advertising, marketing and media, as well as a central resource hub, Advertising Needs You
to help employers share knowledge and enact more substantive change.
The drive comes at a particularly crucial time, keeping diversity high on the agenda as agencies wrestle with the pressures of recession. It also draws from previous experiences – the UK’s #TimeTo platform to combat sexual harassment showed the importance of a concerted approach and tracking the effectiveness of initiatives. To find out more, LBB’s Laura Swinton spoke to Sharon Lloyd Barnes, who is a member of the Inclusion Group and the Advertising Association’s Commercial Director.
LBB> The Inclusion Group has just launched, but what success benchmarks have you set yourself?
Sharon> One long term goal is for our industry to lead all other industries in this very complex area. Our first focus is on the workplace: when we are ready for the ‘return to work’, what does the industry offer diverse talent? UK Advertising Needs You is a one-stop-shop for the brilliant initiatives across the industry and by promoting these we are encouraging them to be emulated across industry so we develop best practices and a blueprint for Inclusion.
It’s also important that the group’s members have personal and/or professional experience to inform what we do. As mum to an adult child with autism, I am acutely aware of the barriers to work and independence people like him are faced with. And from my own perspective, I’m a carer and a working, single parent with many years’ experience of juggling these roles and trying to do them well.
LBB> I think it’s interesting that tracking engagement in the scheme has been baked into the Inclusion Group’s approach - why is that important?
Sharon> The power of a collective approach is that we can amplify existing work in D&I and encourage more. We don’t want to duplicate what’s been done before, and by simplifying our approach we can make an impact with cumulative ‘small wins’. The challenge for many businesses is knowing how to change or expand where they look for new talent and then being able to support that talent once recruited. Even where the recruitment of some minority groups has increased, these numbers are often not retained. We want to identify where these issues are across the industry and track the progress of having sustained attention on the solution.
LBB>We’ve seen evidence in the recent IPA survey that diversity in terms of both representation/ inclusion and pay gaps are getting worse in the industry - why do you think that is?
Sharon> One of the key issues for our industry is retaining and progressing diverse talent, particularly BAME talent. By using the hub to showcase the corporate initiatives that support and advance employees from returners to LGBTQ+, neuro-diverse and BAME, we want to share what works well so others can learn from that. Part of feeling you belong and wanting to stay somewhere is being able to identify a clear career path. Even in the absence of an actual role model in an organisation, a group or scheme that supports those goals can be just as effective. Ultimately, we want every minority group to be represented at senior level to inspire others in their wake.
LBB> That backslide seems at odds with the countless panels, schemes, op-eds that the industry puts out about diversity and inclusion - why do you think previous attempts by employers and industry groups have not had traction? What do you think is the key to tackling the topic effectively?
Sharon> The backslide, or in some cases slow progress, highlights the difficulties employers have in putting the good intention into practice. Whatever the barriers, we want our UK Advertising Needs You hub to be a source of information and support to employers, as well to people looking to join, or progress in, the industry. Our Inclusion Group will ask the challenging questions, then facilitate forums for them to be answered and solutions found. By using the collective clout of the three industry trade bodies – as well as our members in the group – we want to keep up the volume on this issue, we can make greater headway.
LBB> I can’t help but worry that the Covid-19 lockdown and aftermath will make matters even worse - is there a danger that it will slip further down the agenda?
Sharon> The Covid-19 crisis offers a once in a lifetime opportunity for a reset – for us to focus on creating the industry that we all want. This is vital for us to be in order to sustain our position as a global advertising hub. That’s why we’ve launched at this time. If we don’t act now and shine an even brighter spotlight on the importance of diversity, the already poor stats across the industry will be even starker in future surveys. Redundancies and furlough will impact our diverse talent, including those with caring roles, low income backgrounds and entry levels roles. In addition, recruitment drives and apprenticeship schemes have already been impacted and we know anecdotally that grass roots initiatives are struggling to survive.
LBB> Covid and lockdown have been shown to have uneven impact across society. It’s not hard to see the disproportionate impact in BAME communities or the way that full time working women have shouldered more home-schooling responsibilities and imagine how those phenomena might be spill over to advertising and marketing. What conversations have the Inclusion Group had around that/ what’s your perspective and what should employers and managers be aware of?
Sharon> The crisis and lockdown have highlighted the discrepancies in the daily lives of our industry’s workforce. Although everyone is experiencing some form of adversity at this time, for many, life is incredibly difficult. The gift of working online is that many of us have connected at a much more human level by seeing into each other’s homes, asking how we are – and being genuinely interested – and (hopefully) being more compassionate about the challenges many of us face. Whether it’s our mental health, a difficult home environment, financial anxiety or being responsible for others, I think most of us have learned things about our peers and colleagues. This deeper-level connection should make creating diverse teams much easier when we move into recovery phase – and give the employers a better foundation to do so. I think we’ve inherently picked up some valuable insight in the last two months.
LBB> We’ve already heard of redundancies, freelancers' not getting contracts renewed etc - how can the industry retain its amazing diverse talent?
Sharon> By listening to it and thinking beyond the short term. Hopefully employers have done everything possible to protect their teams, by cutting costs and using the government’s support measures, where possible, before resorting to redundancies. Surely by harnessing our brilliant creativity, we can find creative solutions to protect our brightest talent. We urge employers to share what’s working for them in our Hub, to help inspire the rest of the industry.
LBB> There are some positives - I’ve heard from young people trying to get into the industry that the opening up of online opportunities to connect has been massively helpful for those who normally can’t afford to travel into London. Virtual book crits have been more accessible, free courses, and zoom panels - what should we learn from all of those beyond the pandemic?
Sharon> Absolutely. For many of us who spent years prevaricating over flexible working, we discovered overnight that it works! This experience has opened up a whole new world of access to the industry – and to the diverse talent we want to attract.
LBB> Looking forward, what projects are you looking forward to getting stuck into with the Inclusion Group?
Sharon> Right now, our focus is on UK Advertising Needs You – building its content and ensuring everyone knows about it and is accessing the many schemes and initiatives that are recorded there. We want to be the best industry of all industries when it comes to building and retaining a fully inclusive workforce. Looking beyond the hub, we’re determined to tackle the existing statistics and track progress. We want to lift every stone to ensure that the industry is match fit to recruit the diverse talent we want and need. We’d love to hear from employers and initiatives about the work they’re doing – as well as the problems they run into. And we really look forward to the first time we can all meet to discuss this in person!
LBB> How can the wider industry engage and help?
Sharon> By taking a look at UK Advertising Needs You, sharing any schemes or initiatives that they know of with us to be included there and reviewing which of the existing ones can be applied to their own businesses. There is much being done and, if we can all work together to improve our recruitment and retention of diverse talent, UK advertising can only benefit, both in terms of the work it produces but also in the experience of being a professional working in this industry.