Diversity should be more than just a slogan

Only by embracing diversity can agencies stay relevant in today's rapidly evolving society.

The new mainstream: same-sex marriage supporters celebrate the US Supreme Court ruling on the steps of the Texas Capitol. Pic credit: PA Photos
The new mainstream: same-sex marriage supporters celebrate the US Supreme Court ruling on the steps of the Texas Capitol. Pic credit: PA Photos

Just a few weeks ago, Washington DC was awash with rainbow colours and delighted celebrations as the US Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage. It was a sea-change for America and a signal for the rest of us too.

Attitudes are changing faster than ever and what constitutes "mainstream" is becoming diluted. We are embracing difference – seeing the value of everyone not being and doing and looking the same – as never before. This, of course, helps to enrich society in so many ways. For marketing organisations, this provides both a huge opportunity and a challenge: to seek to understand and engage groups of consumers that have previously gone unrecognised.

But this embracing of diversity and difference should be more than just a campaign for marketers and the creative industry at large. It should be something tangible that consumers, clients and employees feel, at their core, is being delivered by brands, corporations and employers.

A key to creating true diversity and inclusion in the culture of a company stems from recruitment.

And here lies the challenge for organisations to shake up the foundations of their workplace philosophy to ensure inclusivity is something that is indeed tangible for both employees and clients.

Diversity cannot simply be preached by agency leaders as a buzzword. Instead, a fundamental change in recruitment and in business leadership needs to happen.

The practical steps agencies can take to create a more diverse workforce can be summed up in three key areas: investment, role models and tracking.

Investment in creating employee networks, enrolling on programmes such as Stonewall Diversity Champions, promoting diverse talent and developing a strategy to drive diversity – all of these are important to attract and retain diverse staff and bring diversity branding to a company’s work. Role models across all levels of an agency are needed to promote diversity, and measurement of who is in your agency in order to benchmark levels of diversity is essential to show that change is happening.

The changing attitudes in society about what constitutes mainstream, and recognition of the value of diversity, have not yet been reflected in the lifeblood of many marketing organisations or, indeed, in business at large. There are some initiatives that are breaking new ground in changing this. Ogilvy Pride, for example – the LGBT and straight ally network of Ogilvy & Mather – encourages employees to be individual and true to themselves. Through being an authentic individual in the workplace, an employee can bring out the creativity in themselves. The confidence that comes from being supported in who and what you are, and the ability to reach out to all parts of society that follows from that, are invaluable to the success of a creative business.

If you are committed to building a creative organisation, the first thing you need to do is embrace ideas and ways of thinking that are different to your own. This means celebrating difference.

Diversity and inclusion are just as important for the next phase of creativity within the industry as they are for good personnel relationships within a company.

It is not just creative organisations that are recognising the benefits of diversity. For the past 20 years, the banking and legal sectors have invested heavily to ensure they employ a range of different people.

For example, Deutsche Bank, IBM, EY, Barclays, Reed Smith and Thomson Reuters have made strong progress promoting LGBT inclusion within their businesses, implementing the key areas of investment, role models and tracking to drive change.

By 2020 in London, it is estimated that the "mainstream" majority will be outnumbered by minorites.

Across the country, most people will be more at ease with the acceptance and celebration of difference. Agencies need to reflect more the people in the markets in which they operate if they are to understand this shift in society.

Ogilvy’s mantra that "advertising reflects the mores of society" is as relevant today as it was 40 years ago. This is particularly so with the rise of digital advertising, which allows for much greater targeted marketing. It’s almost as if digital marketing was conceived with diverse audiences in mind. An understanding of the differing cultural nuances that exist within a wide spread of different consumer groups, and reflecting these in marketing content, is a key to increasing effectiveness within communications.

Shifts in social attitudes, the considerable spending power of minority groups, the creativity that comes from recognising the variety within markets and the importance of supporting the confidence of all employees and drawing out the very best from them are fundamental to the success of contemporary marketing. In order to do this, businesses must look to their recruitment, to their policies, to their culture and to their leadership.

Diversity must become more than just a slogan.

Lord Smith is the chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority and Andrew Barratt is the head of Ogilvy Pride UK

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