Diversity gains in ad industry are too marginal and based on guesswork
A view from Leo Rayman

Diversity gains in ad industry are too marginal and based on guesswork

We need anonymous, independently gathered, figures that give us a true picture of diversity, writes Grey London's chief executive.

So the IPA Diversity numbers are in, and there are some positive metrics. But the gains are too marginal – we are talking improvements of a mere fraction of a percentage point.

And let’s not forget that these tiny victories come on the heels of last year’s report, when there was an actual drop in numbers of female leaders and those from ethnic minorities. The IPA survey is a brilliant initiative and keeps us focused on the challenges ahead, but it is also a painful reminder of just how far we still have to go.

To get there, we need to change things up, and the best place to start is to be accurate with the data. If we really want to know the state of the industry, we need anonymous, independently gathered, figures that give us a true picture of diversity, and provide a realistic baseline from which to measure progress.

The IPA relies on honesty from agencies for its Diversity Study, but too many still insist on guessing their numbers, and some even willfully make them up to make themselves look better. You can’t help but question the robustness of the survey, so let’s call it out.

That’s not to say that agencies don’t genuinely want to improve the situation: the best have hard-working initiatives in place, and the IPA is taking its own steps towards building diversity. Inevitably, though, some strategies will be more successful than others, and it’s important to take a critical look at the different schemes and to be candid about what is working.

Saatchi & Saatchi is delivering the London Living Wage and have bit the bullet by raising all internship and entry-level salaries by £3,000. Engine’s "Better with Balance" is an incredibly robust, five-part initiative sharply focused on maintaining diversity all the way up to the top of the organisation. At Grey we have partnered with 19 other agencies to find the best ways to deliver the necessary scale of cultural change through the Diversity Taskforce.

Perhaps most significantly of all, MediaCom has convinced 12 agencies to share the same independent, anonymised, research methodology to create the most in-depth diversity deep dive our industry has seen. Next year, these agencies will know that the data that they contribute to the IPA survey is true.

But not every initiative is going to accelerate change, so we also have to be transparent about what’s not working.

Some agencies have introduced blind CV screening that doesn’t consider background or education, which we know is a fabulous demonstration to existing talent that you are an agency at which it doesn’t matter where you come from. But Grey has been doing this for more than five years, and we know that on its own this doesn’t do enough to shift the dial, because insufficient numbers of awesome kids from diverse backgrounds know we even exist.

While the principle of blind CVs is a good one, the recruitment process is definitely broken and antiquated. However, the top of the funnel is possibly even more warped – we’ve got to attack that and not just tickle the problem. Why would a smart creative kid on a sink estate know there are opportunities for them in the ad industry? And if they did, how do we make ourselves attractive to them?

We have the tools, skills, energy and creative swagger to shift the dial. Let’s never celebrate marginal gains again. Let’s not hide behind a promise of long-term change. We’re in the business of impact, not excuses. And we are certainly bigger, better, and more straight-talking than that as an industry.

Leo Rayman is chief executive of Grey London


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