It's time to pull institutional systems to the ground and build a new model
A view from Hannah Lees

It's time to pull institutional systems to the ground and build a new model

Hannah Lees, senior account manager at Havas Media and named among Campaign's 2017 Faces to Watch, shares her lessons from the ladder.

With the plethora of content around gender diversity flooding our media environments, you’d be forgiven for thinking the media industry is not only driving the prominence of gender diversity but also instigating action. Less talk, more action.

Sadly, you’d be wrong.

According to the Global Gender Gap Index study, gender parity has shifted into reverse for the first time since the World Economic Forum started measuring it. The reality is we’re looking at an eye-watering 217 years until global gender parity is achieved. The countries that have made considerable progress are poised for growth and success yet, for many, female talent remains one of the most underutilised resources for industries and businesses alike.

We know that, globally, businesses are losing out on growth and competitiveness through their inability to build structures that are dynamic and inclusive. Even within the UK, economic gender parity could add an additional £180bn to GDP.

So, whilst it should not simply be the significant economic dividends that encourage us to take a long hard look at our policies, one thing is certain: through lack of equal opportunity and integration, key skills, ideas and perspectives are not being leveraged or used to shape businesses to their full potential.

The IPA’s 2017 Diversity Survey laid bare how poorly the media industry is performing. The number of women moving up to senior leadership has moved by 0.6% since 2016. Overall, BAME figures have moved by 0.7%. In addition to this, it has been acknowledged that, once women get to middle management, rising female talent grinds to a halt.

Ultimately, the consensus is that, while the issue has prominence now, change starts on every agency floor. We need to drive action and change, rather than simply talking about it. It’s a large task but can easily be understood as both a short and long-term challenge. Short term, we can make small changes to our hiring pipeline and process. Longer-term, we instigate actions within our communities which scratch away and work deeper to change the status quo.

Unconsious biases

So, how does your pipeline fare?

Many agencies are moving to a deliberately diverse recruitment model, ensuring those at the initial recruitment stages have completed unconscious bias training. It’s critical to shed light on the importance of creating a company where employees of all backgrounds feel welcome and receive the support they need to do their best work. Only by identifying where unconscious biases lie can organisations address their challenges and shift imbalance.

Agencies can also start by considering the language used within job descriptions and the recruitment process, as well as within the organisation itself day-to-day. Language dictates convention. It dictates structure. It dictates "the way things are".

The ever-so-subtle nuances of language can have even the smallest impact on the way a message is received, and so job adverts encouraging future talent into agencies should be gender-neutral and non-assumptive. Requesting genderless and nameless CVs requires minimal effort and removes all room for unconscious bias. If raw, untapped talent is the focus of your pipeline, then gender shouldn’t even be a consideration at this point.

These changes are all well and good, but how can we foster a long-term sense of inclusion to ensure those putting themselves forward are high-potential employees, regardless of background and gender?

This isn’t a quick fix. Whilst the industry may have recognised that institutional sexism and structural disadvantage is a social reality, it’s going to take time to completely readdress systematic injustice.

Grassroots initiatives drive businesses to understand if there are rich areas of talent that aren’t traditionally considered because of previous structural requirements, whether it be an educational requirement or a gender-focused attribute.

While requiring monetary and time investment from organisations, making explicit investments in high-potential, under-represented groups of people and allowing these groups to see the media industry as a truly realistic opportunity can yield long-term benefits and a richer pool of talent to pull through the pipeline.

This is a case of working with local centres of education to understand the diversity that surrounds our agencies, then shaping a long-term talent engagement and recruitment model that is fit for purpose, suits the needs of both parties and is a true learning experience.

This isn’t a case of pulling in diverse audiences for work experience; it’s about building a sustainable framework that benefits clients, agencies and underrepresented groups. It’s about pulling institutional systems to the ground, and collaboratively building a new model that’s relevant to modern day society.

Ultimately, it’s clear to see the prevailing system is broken and will require considerable effort to implement initiatives that address the problem. Like it or not, bias, discrimination and sexism are rife, and each of us has the power to shape the future of the organisations within which we work.

We can drive more talk, but also more action. We can roll up our sleeves and change our industry for the better.