Calling veteran adlanders: join the movement to make creative industries more diverse
A view from Daisy Bard

Calling veteran adlanders: join the movement to make creative industries more diverse

Students from the School of Communication Arts are working together to make adland more diverse.

Picture the scene. A community of volunteer creatives go into underprivileged schools country-wide, and run workshops with young people that put a creative career on their radar.

The workshops show the students a snapshot of what they could achieve, even if their brains work diffirently to their friends', or if they love puns, or spend their life on Reddit, or love making things – even if they got Cs and Ds in their GCSEs. The workshops show them they could get paid to do something they’re actually good at.

When the students decide to take the plunge, the volunteers mentor them. They help the students make a book, get a partner and choose a course. These connections give them a foot in the door – a "new boys network", if you will.

This is what we want to do. A group of us from the School of Communication Arts' one-of-a-kind, one-year ad course, including my classmate Kenny Meek, are starting a project called Divertical. We want to improve diversity in the UK ad industry through education, give students a leg up on the ladder, and make agencies more creative as a result.

We’re able to do this thanks to our school, which encourages its students to actively change the things they don’t like – to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

You only need to look at the sea of white faces in a typical agency to see the race vacuum – IPA figures reported in January that only 12% of agency staff come from a non-white background.

The school’s own solution to diversity is funding a number of scholarships through competitions and charities. But we’re going further, taking the industry to the people it needs most.

It’s been said the main gaps in diversity at our level (the first entry level role) are in the three Rs – region, race and religion.

Non-Londoners seldom get the support they need in terms of making rent in the capital while working for the London living wage, or below, let’s be honest.

You only need to look at the sea of white faces in a typical agency to see the race vacuum – IPA figures reported in January that only 12% of agency staff come from a non-white background.

And, as for religion, not unconnected to the BAME issue, unconscious bias plays a huge role when it comes to something as simple as, "do I recognise that surname? Is that person like me? Are they in my tribe?".

At entry level, the gender stats are more or less 50-50. Sure, there’s definitely a problem higher up the food chain when it comes to representation and pay and the horrible phrase "trying to have it all". Our dream is not to cheat the system, have a tactical baby and a few weeks of speed-leave a year after beating a man to a promotion.

Besides, we don't all have the luxury to worry about that. Three Rs aside, there are many people who don’t even know "creative" is a job they could go into. And when they do, they struggle to net as much as their well-connected, confident contemporaries.

According to the Creative Industries Federation, those who attended private school earn nearly £6,000 a year more than average. That’s a lot for having a school motto in Latin.

The point is, true diversity isn't easy to achieve. Sometimes you have to build some ramps, or even make sure you’re using diverse recruiters. But it’s worth it, for profitability as well as the obvious reasons.

McKinsey’s research shows that more diverse companies see greater financial returns. And as Chris Bovill and John Allison rightly wrote in Campaign earlier this year, "it’s not about positive discrimination, it’s about UHP (unique hiring proposition). Cram as many different humans into your workplace and you’ll reap the rewards".

Why would we waste the opportunity to fish in a bigger, better talent pool?

So let’s get back to the proposition and show young people from different races, backgrounds and socioeconomic classes that this is not only a job that exists but a job they can flourish in.

I'm lucky enough to be writing this as a well-educated, straight white woman with more privilege than you could shake an ivory cane at. I'm one of the women doing just fine in advertising. Fine and dandy. So I'm going to leave the "hot take" on the gender issue to one side.

I’m also not concerning myself (not yet) with the goings-on at the top of the industry because I’m not opening that can of worms as a not-yet-hired student. My classmates and I specialise in the foetal stage, the bit where you figure out you want to be a creative. We want to make that decision possible for people who aren’t yet in the club.

School feels like the most democratic way of starting the process. Plus, it’s obviously cool for less academic students to see a path that doesn’t depend on a clean sweep of A*s – a path that doesn’t just accept but celebrates their lateral way of seeing things.

So let’s get back to the proposition and show young people from different races, backgrounds and socioeconomic classes that this is not only a job that exists but a job they can flourish in.

Let’s not wait for the "trickle down" effect, for recruiters to magically stop being biased, or for young people with no knowledge of the industry to take a leap of faith into the unknown.

Of course this is only a start. The idea itself is still a seedling. But if you want to help us fertilise it, please get in touch at diverticalproject@gmail.com. We’re on the hunt for veteran adlanders to add experience to our energy, and other young creatives like us. 

Join our army. Let’s cast off the uniform.

Daisy Bard is a copywriter at the School of Communication Arts.

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