'Other' - the box no-one should have to tick

A new experiment aims to show how embracing the diverse beliefs and cultures of our country can impact on business solutions, Nadya Powell writes.

'Other' - the box no-one should have to tick

Earlier this month, at Google’s London headquarters, The Great British Diversity Experiment launched with the aim of proving that diversity leads to a better society, better solutions and a better world. 

The project is the brainchild of Alex Goat, Daniele Fiandaca, Jonathan Akwue, Laura Jordan Bambach and myself. 

It involves putting volunteers into 18 teams, set with the challenge of using culture and code to hack a real-life brief set by Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Tesco. 

Flamingo, our research partner, will use a range of ethnographic methods to study the teams and understand the difference diversity makes to generating business solutions. 

In total, 180 people volunteered – the majority signed up within eight hours – and many of them told us their personal stories as part of the process. One in particular caught my eye – a lady of Asian descent who married a man of another ethnicity and they recently had their first child. What, she asked, would her child make of a life where he would always have to tick the "other" box on forms and questionnaires? 

Being white, middle-class and female, I’ve never had to consider this question. I look at my two young daughters and am heartbroken that anyone was forced to tick the "other" box. Maybe I’m an idealist but surely it is not acceptable to live in a society where anyone has to tick that box?

So let’s redefine and reconsider who the "others" are and, in doing so, banish the concept once and for all. 

Closing the gender gap
The good news is that women are increasingly no longer the "other". The IPA and Campaign report on gender diversity demonstrates that women are taking more top jobs within agencies. 

But two challenges remain. First, women are still horribly under-represented in tech and creative departments. Second, some cultures and societies around the globe do not share our belief in gender equality. How should a UK team respond when an overseas colleague advises not fielding women in a meeting as the client "does not like women in business"? A plea – the UK industry must fly the flag of gender diversity, no matter where business is being done. Women should never be the unwanted "other" due to geography.

Last week, Campaign and the IPA published the results of their ethnicity census. It found that 8 per cent of top-tier leadership staff come from a black, Asian and minority-ethnic background, with a target to double this to 15 per cent by 2020. This is ambitious, and putting pressure on the industry through targets will work. But let’s reassess our view of ethnic minorities full stop. 

The London breakdown
Fact: more than 50 per cent  of people in inner London come from a BAME background, according to the 2011 UK census. 

So the reality is that if you are white and live in London, you are the minority – and maybe it’s time you (and I) ticked the "other" box. 

Thanks to pressure from organisations such as the IPA and the increasing mixing of ethnicities, the time will come when apprenticeship schemes no longer need to focus on BAME individuals. Instead, they will simply focus on reflecting the wonderful diversity of cities.

A broader diversity agenda
While working on the experiment, two other groups grabbed our attention. The LGBT community is, in my experience, a much-loved part of our industry. But, at The Great British Diversity Experiment launch, Scott Knox, the managing director of the Marketing Agencies Association, pointed out that LGBT people are still victim to discrimination. In recent years, he has been called a "poofter" and, on attempting to set up an LGBT group at an industry body, was told "not to encourage the freaks". Not OK.

Disability is one of the biggest taboos in the industry – rarely discussed or addressed as part of the diversity agenda. In a job where the majority of your time is at a computer, at your desk or in a lift, why are there so few people with disabilities in the industry? We met one volunteer with cystic fibrosis who expressed total joy that the experiment enabled her to be open about her disability and embraced her experiences as valuable. She felt isolated at work and never able to be 100 per cent herself. This needs to change.

The experiment
Right now, 18 teams are being studied by Flamingo while working on a brief set by Toby Horry, the digital marketing director at Tesco: "How can we reduce the amount of food waste at home?" 

The results will be shared on 25 February and the final report on 26 April. This report aims to prove once and for all that diversity works by providing real evidence of the impact it can have.

In the meantime, our plea to the industry is that no-one should ever have to tick the "other" box. 

Akwue’s family is living testimony to why the box must be banned. His children are part-Fijian, part-Nigerian, part-Swiss, part-Italian, part-Tongan, part-Brazilian and part-Scottish. "Other" can never do justice to his children’s rich heritage, nor the perspectives and cultures they will bring to society. 

So let’s stop using "other" and, instead, call everyone – with their rich mixture of experiences, beliefs and cultures – "unique". 

Nadya Powell is the managing director of Sunshine


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