Lessons for adland from the divisive race report
A view from Stephanie Matthews

Lessons for adland from the divisive race report

The anger over the government commissioned report on ethnic disparities has yet to dissipate. What are the takeouts for the ad industry?

The recent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report left me initially feeling powerless and disappointed once again.

I’ve already been let down by the blatant lack of support for black, Asian and multi-ethnic communities as Covid ripped through our families at pace, with twice the risk of death for Bangladeshi communities, and between 10 to 50% higher risk of death for black, Chinese, Indian and Pakistani people compared to their white British counterparts (PHE, 2020).

Then that report launched confirming there’s no institutional racism here in the UK. Phew. We can breathe a sigh of relief and thank the Government for clearing that one up.

The more I read, the more I knew this wasn’t right. I may not hold a position in parliament, but I do have a voice, influence and power to campaign for something better for people like me - the brown and black people of the UK.

There were three clangers in the report that hit me like a brick. Firstly, the assertion that the UK is a “beacon” of race relations gone good; that our system is a “model” that should be emulated around the world.

That's the same model in which one in five black households and one in four Asian households are in persistent poverty, compared to one in ten white households (Race Disparity Audit, Cabinet Office). “Huzzah!” Let's beat our chests and applaud the Great British Empire. She’s conquered again.

Secondly, the fact that racism has been negated as a primary driver of disadvantage in the UK, pointing instead to “geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion” as larger drivers. It’s odd. While I do not disagree that these characteristics do play a role, it’s the intersectionality that’s key. They’re not mutually exclusive, and ethnicity is the primary factor behind all of those characteristics. Yet again, racism has been softened and side-lined to appease.

Lastly, the recommendation to abolish unconscious bias training didn’t sit right with me. I agree with the report that generic unconscious bias training in isolation isn’t evidence of behaviour change, and we need to focus on diverse talent attraction and retention. But, you do need both awareness and action to create a truly equitable and inclusive workforce. The unfortunate result of this report is some people believe that no action is required, and that is so far from the case.

It's the actions I’m interested in. What will you do differently to ensure you are not consciously discriminating in the workplace, with colleagues or with customers through your products and marketing.

As bias is woven into the systems and structures, you have to apply bias to your internal processes in order to both raise awareness and drive tangible action.

At Creative Equals, we partner with clients in understanding, acknowledging and implementing the learnings from their bias training into their business-wide processes. We enable them to mitigate for bias across all functions whether that be within recruitment, marketing or product. Our Applied Bias programme is just one approach within a considered, holistic and measurable inclusion, equity and diversity strategy and implementation plan.

For me, the publication of this report provides an opportunity to reassess and reaffirm what's important for the industry.

Representation within our workforce

Sector attraction. My Indian Ma pushed me to get into medicine not advertising. We need to do more to appeal to the next generation of diverse talent from a young age - starting at schools, with IPA’s Advertising Unlocked and colleges with the Marketing Academy Foundation or Publicis Groupe’s new Marcel Open Apprenticeship. The teams that create the work need to reflect society.

Retention. There’s no point investing in attracting diverse talent if your leaders and managers do not know how to lead inclusive teams. Empower diverse teams to own their lived experiences, be themselves and add their difference to the workplace. Diversity of thought is a gift for solving the business problems our creative sector is designed for.

Senior Leadership. The “snowy white peaks” the report talks about are in our own zoom rooms. Be intentional. Talent map your diverse employees and give them the training, mentoring and sponsorship that such a transition requires.

Representation within our marketing outputs

The opportunity here is to recognise our role in ensuring marketing continuously perpetuates what a “civilised society” looks like. We know advertising has the power to change perceptions of society at scale. Check out the WFA’s Diversity and Representation Guide for more insight into how to remove bias in the creative process, in collaboration with us and other partners.

So this report is not the end of the road. We all need an opportunity to reset, and in a post-Covid, anti-racist, civilised society, it’s time to start treating people fairly, as equals, and as the individual humans, we all are.

Stephanie Matthews is the senior business director at Creative Equals

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