Opinion

Diversity - a call to arms

Diversity in the workplace can benefit the bottom line, but its positive impact goes beyond this and we should all strive to encourage it, writes Suki Thompson, CEO and co-founder, Oystercatchers

Marketing must cast its recruitment net wider
Marketing must cast its recruitment net wider

Last year, Campaign's ‘A List' asked the question: "Who in the industry would you be if you could come back as anyone?" My friend Steve said: "That’s easy for you, Suki, you’d be a man. Just think how much more successful you’d be if you’d been born male."

I was quite offended, but, actually, the stats suggest this might be true. In 2015's 'A List', out of 418 executives 79 (19%) were women and eight (2%) were BAME. 

Marketing’s 2015 'Power 100' lists 31 women and just four from BAME. Yet about 8m people, 13% of the UK, come from BAME backgrounds. 

And please don’t get me started on the salary divide. 

Unnervingly, Stonewall suggests: "82% of LGBT people go back into the closet following higher/further education when they enter the workplace."

Our industry sells brands on the back of aspiration – and now we need to be more imaginative in what we aspire to.

Global research indicates that businesses with high inclusive engagement enjoy operating profit almost three times higher than those that don’t. But diversity is much more than just good business sense.

This week we held our first 2016 Oystercatchers Club evening. The topic was diversity, and, I had a truly eclectic panel: Paul Geddes, CEO, Direct Line Group; Michael Brunt, CMO and managing director of The Economist; Karen Blackett, CEO, MediaCom, and Catherine Mayer, a founder of the Women’s Equality Party.

Three themes emerged:

Allow people to bring their real selves to work

"Call out laddish behaviour and other forms of discrimination and create 'no-tolerance' cultures to support younger people in organisations, so that diversity and inclusion can happen," suggested Mayer.

Geddes urged us to "bring all of yourself to work, don’t leave your personality at the door".

Brunt, meanwhile, observed with poignancy: "I wish my 20-year-old self had seen someone outwardly LGBT running a large organisation."

Rewire to become a destination industry

One in four children in UK primary schools comes from a BAME background, and first-generation parents have yet to see marketing as a career of choice – advocating that their children become doctors, lawyers or accountants. We need to educate and deliver confidence for parents and students alike and show rewards on offer in marketing and communications.

So, how are we tackling outdated recruitment? Graduate schemes recruit, in general, from the Russell Group Universities, and headhunters need to throw their nets wider. Geddes jettisons "achingly dull shortlists", challenging for more interesting and diverse options. Mixed interview panels are working for some businesses to overcome unconscious bias.

Change comes from the top

Change comes with sponsorship at board level. "Diversity is about being in the room, inclusion is being given a seat at the table," said Blackett.

Brunt wants to create a company where "being yourself is nurtured, rewarded and celebrated". For greater equality, he has introduced flexibility for everyone – not just employees with children – and, a process to ensure that people loyal to The Economist are not penalised against market value.

Blackett has established family days, and 'Project Blend', which tackles the focus on office 'face-time'.

Geddes pointed to a potential imminent "pay inflation" for senior women, as similar-minded companies all compete for the best female talent, so there should be further change afoot.

But what more can we do? As an industry we are in a unique place to push change – hard. Our industry sells brands on the back of aspiration – and now we need to be more imaginative in what we aspire to. What we create on TV screens, online and on posters influences society; we are a mirror and a barometer, and we need to provide a better reflection of society and reality.

We all need to step up and step forward. I am passionate about fairness, passionate about decency, passionately interested in everyone getting a chance. A simple step Oystercatchers is taking is to bring agencies and marketers together with the Women’s Equality Party to support this change. Our first session is booked for the 2 February, so please let me know if you would like to join in.

This time next year I want to be able to look back and see that I, and others, have made a difference.

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