Adland needs to reinvent, rebrand and reimagine when it comes to inclusion
A view from Sue Unerman

Adland needs to reinvent, rebrand and reimagine when it comes to inclusion

Advertising is an industry that runs on talent, but it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to inclusion and belonging.

How are you feeling about the end of the day at work?  Have you done everything you can to make sure that anyone you work with feels that they really belong?

“Time spent away from the office and at home will have led to boundaries about what is appropriate being forgotten….and a concern around "pent-up" feelings and emotions leading to an increase in inappropriate behaviour once restrictions are lifted.”  

So wrote Helen Calcraft, founder member of TimeTo and founder of Lucky Generals, reporting on industry research into sexual harassment on so-called Freedom Day (19 July, 2021).

Maya Angelou famously said that people don’t remember what you say, they remember how you make them feel.

Sometimes they remember what you say as well. Especially if they make you feel bad. I believe I can remember, fairly specifically, every sentence I have heard that I felt was racist or sexist. (I am fortunate that where I work this is much less prevalent than in previous employers or in education.)

Calcraft references the blog that Zoe Scaman wrote about sexism in her career, which has caused a storm of reactions, supportive, positive and negative and fearful. It is clear from her words that she pretty much remembers everything she heard, too.

Advertising is an industry that runs on talent. Yet in terms of inclusion and belonging there is no doubt that not everyone feels actively invited to contribute to the fullness of their wonderful diverse different talents, and not just in terms of sexism. 

None of us is perfect in everything we say at all times. Forgiveness of mistakes is essential, otherwise we will get nowhere. But intentional denigration – active put-downs, persistent bullying banter – is harder to forgive. 

For our industry it seems obvious that things need to change. The evidence of the All In Census prompted Kate Magee to report that urgent improvements are needed to boost representation of black, disabled and working-class talent.

Are we all doing enough? In our book Belonging, we urge everyone to take leadership for inclusion. Only if everyone acts to create a culture of Belonging can there or will there be change.

No-one should have to go to work and face comments or behaviour that undermine them personally and professionally. It makes work more stressful than it needs to be, and life is too short to be miserable at work.

Advertising should be taking the lead in driving change, ripping up any residual traditional patterns of behaviour. Reinventing, rebranding, reimagining – that’s our industry at its best.

How can we all do more? Here is a thought, from the other side of the world, from a different crisis. 

In the UK there are still delays in removing the cladding from buildings after the Grenfell tragedy in 2017. The state of Victoria in Australia has had more success in resolving this issue. Unlike the UK, there is an agency responsible for removing cladding: Cladding Safety Victoria. A comment that one of its executives made was moving. She said that the task of transforming building safety in Victoria was ongoing, but that she, and her colleagues, asked themselves at the end of every day: “Have I done my very best to ensure fire safety today?”, and if the answer was yes, then they could sleep well.

Research for our book, conducted by Dynata, states that a third of workers in the UK have personally experienced bias, harassment or inappropriate behaviour at work and that figures are higher for groups who are underrepresented in senior management, for example: LGBT+ 48%; mixed race 60%; black 40%; registered disabled 59%; diagnosis of mental illness 46% and the neurodiverse 54%.

Given this, and the insight from TimeTo and All In, it seems unlikely that we are all doing enough to ensure a sense of Belonging at work – to be active allies, to be inclusive.

The next step for us all is to ask ourselves at the end of every day: “Have I done enough? Have I done my very best today to ensure that everyone I work with feels that they belong?”

Sue Unerman is chief transformation officer at MediaCom

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