Diverse voices: Sarah Jenkins on getting the golden ticket
A view from Sarah Jenkins

Diverse voices: Sarah Jenkins on getting the golden ticket

Our industry is growing into something increasingly intelligent, progressive and empowering, but are our hearts really in this?

The industry now needs to turn fine words about diversity into action that creates change. Campaign asked a broad range of adlanders at different career stages to share their personal stories and plot ways forward from their experiences

And I’m not going to lie, it’s brilliant. The agency crew are immense and I’m feeling very blessed.

But arriving at the dream job, I can definitely say it’s been a journey, and not always a picture-perfect one. As a black woman in advertising in the 2000s and 2010s, the colour of my skin meant I had some awful bosses, was sometimes, perhaps even often, underpaid, been side-eyed in client receptions and just two years ago was mistaken for a cloakroom attendant at an industry event.  

So far, so crappy. But it’s been a journey where I’ve also experienced our industry grow into something increasingly intelligent, progressive and empowering. I’ve definitely felt it at its kindest, smartest and most inspiringly meritocratic. All hail the best idea in the room, not the one who spouted it.

Now, as we head into the 2020s, we have so many reasons to be proud, to hitch our skirts to the stars and wallow in our industry’s awesome wokeness:

  • The most recent in-depth survey, from 2018, showed 23% of our intake is now from BAME backgrounds. Surely an incredible green shoot for industry make-up.
  • We have seen small diversity organisations, such as Creative Equals, transformed from one-woman roadshows to some of the widest-reaching diversity and inclusion platforms in the UK.
  • We’ve watched embryonic production organisations, such as Looks Like Me and Pocc, take on some of the production world’s most embarrassing dinosaurs, forcing important change in how we make our ads.
  • And stood in awe as Karen Blackett, Magnus Djaba, Ete Davies, Bill Scott, Nishma Robb, Trevor Johnson, Naren Patel and Rak Patel, to note just a few stellar names, smashed through glass ceilings and locked boardrooms to get to the top of their game.

However, I’m not sure if we are truly heading towards greatness or simply treating this diversity thing as one big experiment. 

Perhaps we are happier celebrating incremental, baby steps, rather than pushing for the paradigm shifts we need to create a truly inclusive industry and society.

In truth, are our hearts really in this?

Are we looking aghast or in glee at the mainstream press’ treatment of Meghan Markle? 

At the dog whistle of racism that shrouded the general election? 

At the racially tainted jingoism of so many Brexit buccaneers?

Do we really want to face into what is happening culturally in the UK for people of colour – in fact, for anyone who is different? 

Perhaps it all feels a bit much, a bit too complicated, but that’s a crap excuse when we solve far more complex challenges for our clients every day.

So, adland, is the fix on? 

Will the roaring 2020s be the decade when we truly fuel representation and inclusiveness? 

Are we really ready to be better informed?

Get the true data on your agency crew. You can’t begin to find a solution if you don’t know what you’re solving.  

The 23% entry-level BAME figure quoted above is cause for optimism, but the low retention figures for the same talent is acutely alarming. 

If you don’t have the data, you don’t know the real challenge – which is, of course, about building an inclusive culture.

To stop scrolling?

The answer to greater ethnicity in your organisation isn’t really in this piece, it’s probably going to come from the amazing British-Nigerian account exec who has been in your company for six months and you’ve never had a conversation with. Put the phone down and spend time with them. Go to one of the hundreds of diversity events the industry holds each year. Even better, go with diverse talent from your agency. And, to be clear, it’s not their job to find the solution, you are the one sitting on the C-suite pay cheque, but neither are you going to ever find the answer entirely alone, sat at your desk.

To be vocal and opinionated?

If you don’t like what you are seeing and hearing in the real world, voice your opinion. We are communication experts. If mainstream TV is giving a voice to the ill-informed, to create soundbites that validate the lie that white people are suffering from racism (spoiler: it’s not a thing, Laurence), use your awesome expertise to educate not just your agency, but your friends and your family – in the nicest way possible – at how clickbait media works. Your opinion carries, so use it. There has never been a more timely time.

To be measured on our efforts?

Money talks. Set your bonus against a greater diversity KPI. What? Yes. Do this. 

It will push it to the top of your to-do list every day. Double-whammy this by telling your agency you’re doing it so it holds you to account. It’s extra jeopardy but it will also realise what a hero you are in doing it.

And, let’s be frank, we need some heroes right now. The world is definitely feeling a little wonky if you are a person of colour living in the UK in 2020. Golden ticket and dream job or not. 

So, adland, I’d love to know you are planning on being increasingly and actively woke, as we now hurtle into a new decade. It really would be wonderful if you were.

Sarah Jenkins is managing director at Saatchi & Saatchi London
Picture: Getty Images