Brands need to be more open to welcoming different cultural and sexual preferences
Brands need to be more open to welcoming different cultural and sexual preferences
A view from Josh Graff

Too many brands only pay lip service to diversity

Organisations need to be much more proactive in breaking down stereotypes and encouraging diversity, says Josh Graff, senior director at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, EMEA and...

I would argue that the word ‘minority’ is almost redundant in today’s society, when you combine all these groups; you end up with a ‘minority majority’

What struck me in the run up to the General Election was just how diverse a nation we live in.  In terms of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or political affinity, the UK has always represented an incredibly rich tapestry of backgrounds, experiences and ways of life. In fact, I would argue that the word ‘minority’ is almost redundant in today’s society, when you combine all these groups; you end up with a ‘minority majority’. Never is this more apparent than during the cut and thrust of frontline political debate during elections. Marketers must constantly remind themselves just how varied the population is if they want to connect with their customers and make them feel truly represented. It is dangerously easy for even experienced marketers to generalise large groups of people.

Vital ingredient for long-term success

For me, diversity in a team (and even more acutely in a marketing team) is a vital ingredient for long-term success. But organisations need to embrace diversity in practice rather than just in theory – too many today just pay it lip service. It is so important that employees feel comfortable expressing their culture or sexual identity in the workplace and, moreover, see these as genuine strengths that bring great value to business.

I felt that not having a degree was a setback and that being gay would be another point of differentiation that I would have to overcome at work

While I’m a huge advocate of being one’s authentic self in the workplace, it isn’t always easy. I struggled with my own identity at the start of my career. When I dropped out of university in 1999 and began working at TV production company, I was determined to carve out a successful career for myself. I felt that not having a degree was a setback and that being gay would be another point of differentiation that I would have to overcome at work. I kept my personal life firmly under wraps. I know now that I couldn’t have been more wrong and that my sexuality and experience as a very young professional without the crutch of years in university allowed me to bring a unique perspective to the working world. When I eventually came out two years later, I vowed to never let who I was hold me back in a professional setting.

Motivate, inspire and lead action

As marketers, our goal is to engage audiences and convey messages that resonate and build brand affinity. Hiring talent from a broad range of cultural, socioeconomic and educational backgrounds enables companies to better understand their customer-base; what motivates them, inspires them and leads them to take action.

62% of Gen Y graduates go back into the closet when entering the workforce

It’s startling that according to statistics from The Department of Culture, Media and Sport only 8% of people working in marketing and advertising are from BAME (Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic) backgrounds although they make up 14% of the population. When it comes to qualifications for entering the industry, there is still a tendency to hire graduates, so much so that 59% of marketers and advertisers have degrees. As it relates to sexual identity, 62% of Gen Y graduates go back into the closet when entering the workforce; a disturbing figure that without doubt prohibits them from committing their whole brain to the job.  

Diversity delivers greater profitability

Workplace diversity is good for business and delivers greater profitability. Companies ranked in the top quartile by board diversity are 53% more profitable than the bottom 25%. Whether it’s related to gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality or cultural background, diverse experiences lead to unique and creative outputs. These are the very things our industry is built on and celebrated for. This view is echoed by Neil Bentley at OUTstanding, who has underlined the need to embed diverse thinking into sales and marketing activity.

We’ve recently implemented a program to educate and raise awareness of unconscious gender bias amongst men and women (yes, it’s not just limited to the men of this world)

At LinkedIn, we’re making strides to ensure that our business attracts as broad a candidate pool as possible. Amongst other initiatives, we’ve recently implemented a program to educate and raise awareness of unconscious gender bias amongst men and women (yes, it’s not just limited to the men of this world). Organisations must implement measures and processes to ensure that there is no glass ceiling, prohibiting women from the boardroom.  Businesses need to ensure that women are recruited, given a working environment in which they can flourish, promoted and offered the same developmental opportunities as their male colleagues. But they also need to go one step further and measure the success of their gender diversity strategy. Our industry doesn’t struggle to attract female talent but it faces challenges in retaining women further down the career line when they start to have children. Creating a working environment that supports family life is a crucial element for gender diversity to thrive in practice.

We're a progressive industry

As an industry, we’ve come a long way from the Mad Men stereotype of suited, womanizing, straight, married white men but we still have a lot of work to do in terms of having dynamic and diverse teams in place that truly represent the variety of people in the UK.

We’re a wonderfully creative, innovative and progressive industry that has the ability to impact change and influence business and communities like no other. Let us lead on this issue, show other industries what we can accomplish and experience the benefits for our people, our brand and our business.


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