Junior iListers tell leaders: do this one thing now

What's one thing business leaders can do right now to make a real difference to Diversity & Inclusion?

Junior iListers tell leaders: do this one thing now

There are 30 inspirational game-changers who have been recognised in 2022 for their commitment to driving inclusivity and diversity in the ad industry and therefore named in this year's IPA iList, run in partnership with Accenture Song and Campaign.

Some are in the earlier stages of their career. They are brimming with ideas and come to the D&I agenda with an outlook untainted by years of legacy practice and attitudes. We want to tap into their fresh thinking and to give them a platform to be heard.

So we’ve asked five junior iListers from the 2022 cohort what one thing they would like business leaders to do right now. This is what they had to say. Listen up….

Meet a young person who’s different to you

I would encourage leaders to ask themselves – “how could my organisation contribute to creating the next generation of diverse talent?”

Sign up to a mentorship scheme tomorrow to meet with younger people in a different or less advantaged position to you, to start empathising with their background and encouraging others in your agency to do so too.

Young people often feel overwhelmed when considering what they could go on to “become”.

Navigating this is even harder for those who lack exposure to networks, role models or opportunities that enable and empower them to explore different options, for reasons outside of their control.

Imagine the collective amount of unfulfilled potential, simply because some young people are unsure how to activate their passions, understand the true extent of their abilities or which educational or professional paths create the best environments for them to thrive in.

Typically, when organisations focus on attracting young talent, they fixate on soon-to-be graduates and prospective apprentices or interns. But what if leaders were more proactive, seeking out younger people from diverse backgrounds in order to inspire them with knowledge about the industry, educate them on what skills and mindsets they seek and advise on the tangible steps they could take to set themselves up for success?

Perhaps the reason why many leaders don’t do this is because it feels like it won’t have a direct impact on their talent pipeline in the near future… but what if leaders across all agencies took the responsibility to look beyond tomorrow, knowing that over time the whole industry would benefit from an empowered, fulfilled and beautifully diverse next generation of creatives, strategists and technologists?

With a more balanced demographic across the industry comes a sustainable cycle of role models, and with new waves of diverse thought comes opportunities for impactful work that could help to change the world - and it can all start today.


Spread the overflow budget beyond adland

The one thing I would ask agency leaders to do right now is pool all Employee Resource Group (ERG)/DE&I funding that’s left over at the end of the year and donate to various organisations rather than roll it over or reallocate it to something else.

Such a move would benefit organisations like Camden Giving or New Horizons Youth Charity, which are dedicated to creating equity in the wider community, immensely – and would stop funding earmarked for such causes going unspent.

We are very privileged to be in a position where we have access to resources that can help people from all backgrounds and communities within our profession to be given the equity and equality that allows them to grow and be successful in their fields.

However, not everyone has this.

There are some people outside of our work spaces that do not have access to it because of their background or because the industry they’re in does not provide it.

I do not think enough of this is done in any industry. I have always had the ideals that it is one thing to say you are an ally or you support this or that community but it is another to act on said statements. Affirmative action is always better than words because words do not benefit anyone other than yourself.

For leaders to start considering such an act will surely provide more assistance and resources for people in underrepresented and marginalised communities; helping people who are not in the same position as us to have better equity and equality in life by doing so.

I recognise that I am very lucky to have this where I work. As human beings, we must continue to empower one another to achieve success, especially for the future of younger generations.

Boost entry-level salaries

Tackle social inequality within the advertising industry at entry-level through a more competitive entry-level salary and subsidised benefits. If people can’t afford to go for a job in the first place, you exclude a big proportion of applicants.

The UK advertising industry talent is, largely, middle or upper class and university-educated.. We’re doing very little to improve social mobility and open up our doors to people from lower-income backgrounds who could provide adland with much-needed, different perspectives.

Access hasn’t historically been a key focus since D&I became part and parcel of agency life. I think there’s a nervousness to know what is the right thing to do, or how to go about it. With a recession incoming, the key focus is to retain staff and clients, and leaders may not feel they can afford to increase salaries.

But there are other ways of looking at it, like subsidising food and travel, or providing a wardrobe budget to those from low income households. Maybe there are more ways to figure out an agency wealth distribution model.

At a base level, those starting out would, more than anything, feel more included and looked after. Secondly, we’d have more people applying to work in the industry, believing it’s something they can afford to enter into.

And, as time moves on, we’d have people in more senior positions showing that social mobility makes a difference. We’d have more voices in agency life from different backgrounds which contribute valuable life experience and remove the inclination of group-think.

Understanding different cultural realities and references, and telling individual stories, ultimately make the work better and more relatable.

Give paid leave for volunteering/D&I work

One thing agency leaders can immediately do is introduce paid leave (two to three days a year) for volunteering or D&I initiatives. From my own experience, this might range from helping out at a food bank and spending time volunteering with the elderly, to working with local charities that help young people from disadvantaged communities get into advertising - and so much more.

With the industry busier than ever post-lockdown, and agencies having to spin and juggle millions of plates to keep clients happy, D&I work often isn't given enough dedicated time and resource.

This leads to it being deprioritized and relegated to a few short minutes here and there, with the bulk of the work falling on underrepresented groups. The danger of this is that D&I becomes just an “underrepresented group responsibility,” rather than something the whole agency can take ownership of and pride in. 

 Making D&I the responsibility of these minorities is not ideal as these groups already have to navigate more than most in the workplace.

 Introducing extra leave always has its share of detractors and a big worry for some is that it would result in a reduction in productivity or of employees taking advantage and using the days for non-D&I work. 

 But trust is key here. Lockdown demonstrated the benefits that come when employers embrace flexibility in their approach to work and their employees and introducing paid leave for D&I initiatives would make a huge difference. 

 The agency’s commitment to D&I would be shown as tangible (“walking the walk”, not just talking); employees would be encouraged by a higher sense of purpose, and, most importantly, acknowledging the need for this intentional and dedicated time would lead to stronger initiatives that make the industry as inclusive as possible.


Set disability recruitment targets

To implement real change, I would ask agency leaders to deliberately focus recruitment efforts toward the disabled community across all areas of their business.

This is because the accessible working conditions that we gained during the COVID-19 pandemic have proved that agencies can accommodate a plethora of talent they were previously missing out on.

Approximately 15% of the global population have a disability, which works out to well over a billion people.

While this group has always faced challenges, we are learning that disability is more complicated than just a health condition. Disabilities occur due to a mismatch between an individual’s body/mind and how their environment has been designed.

This applies to our working environments too and is why the turnover of disabled employees is much higher than the industry average (22% vs 12%).

Traditionally, the working world has overlooked this group of people because of damaging ideas that disabled employees may be more of a burden than an asset, and because businesses have not known how to effectively communicate with and include this community. Thankfully, the COVID-19 pandemic has educated all of us in the ways of accessible working, and there has never been more efforts taken to tackle misconceptions and bias.

As an eternal optimist, I believe it is important to try to see the good in every situation. The pandemic was a testing time for everyone, but both in agencies and beyond, we mustn’t lose the things we gained.

Widespread adoption of accessible working conditions is an essential first step, but we must build on these stronger foundations with even more accessibility initiatives, more accessible hiring processes, truly accessible communications and ultimately, a better understanding of people who are different to ourselves.

For more information on the 2022 iList, go to the Campaign iList hub.

And check out the IPA Talent and Diversity Fairness hub.


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