Gen Kobayashi: CSO at Engine Creative
Gen Kobayashi: CSO at Engine Creative
A view from Gen Kobayashi

Let's start 2021 with a reality check

Engine's CSO urges adland not to let the pressures of Covid distract it from creating a more inclusive industry.

2020 was a year to forget and we’ve all rightly rushed to draw a line underneath it. But before we get too far into 2021, I think the industry would benefit from a healthy reality check.

While news of a vaccine gave us all some hope and made the end of 2020 slightly more bearable (bar the decimation of Christmas), it’s hard to imagine but Covid wasn’t the only issue our industry faced last year.

I’d like us to remind ourselves of some of the unfinished business from 2020 that wasn’t to do with the pandemic.

Unfinished business like the widening gender pay gap that exists within our industry.

Let’s not forget that, as of last year, the marketing services industry had a gender pay gap of 28%. This is higher than the UK’s national gender pay gap of 8.9%, according to the ONS. Its report states, women who work at director level in our industry earn 11% less on average than their male counterparts. It’s not just pay that is the problem, but harassment too. While the #MeToo movement went some way towards combating toxic masculinity, there is a feeling that not much has changed in the ad industry. With 70% of both men and women in the industry feeling that the #MeToo movement has had no impact whatsoever.

Reality Check 1 – Women remain discriminated against in our industry.

Unfinished business that was started by the BLM movement in the summer last year.

While the murder of George Floyd happened thousands of miles away in the United States, his death was felt throughout the world and nowhere more so than in the UK, with black, white, brown, young and old all marching together in solidarity. Voices were heard, promises were made but change hasn’t materialised yet in our industry. In fact, adland’s diversity problem got worse last year with the proportion of BAME employees falling at each of the highest levels of seniority within the industry. And, according to Brixton Finishing School, aspiring young professionals from diverse backgrounds feel their chances of making it are getting worse, with 31% believing their race to be a barrier to entry. Adland’s diversity problem hasn’t just stagnated due to Covid, it’s deteriorated.

Reality Check 2 – The ad industry remains a closed shop for many BAME professionals.

Unfinished business like adland’s bullying problem.

Last summer, I was lucky enough to share a panel with creative director Sue Higgs. Sue was brave enough to speak up about her experience of workplace bullying that brought this issue to the surface. Her story resulted in a watershed moment, with many other stories of workplace bullying in the ad industry coming to light. With a quarter of UK employees feeling as though issues like bullying and harassment in the workplace are “swept under the carpet”, according to the CIPD, there is a deep-rooted problem that we need to face up to.

Reality Check 3 – A culture of workplace bullying exists in much of our industry.

Despite the chaos of 2020 and the global pandemic we’re still living through, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of some of the biggest existential threats affecting our industry. 

So what’s the silver bullet?

Unfortunately, there isn’t one.

These problems can be solved only through the multiple actions of many.

Actions from the likes of Wacl and its #FlexibleFirst campaign, addressing one of the biggest factors in closing the gender pay gap within the marketing and communications industry. 

Actions from the likes of Brixton Finishing School, which continues to fight for a more diverse talent pool within our industry with the launch of Ad-Cademy – a free virtual advertising course designed to help nurture and develop aspiring young ad professionals from all walks of life.

Two weeks into 2021, as we tire of our virtual offices and our back-to-back Zoom calls, let’s take a collective reality check and remind ourselves of what needs to change in our industry. Let's begin by asking ourselves what we can do to make this change. 

Covid has had a monumental impact on society and, in turn, our industry, as we stare down the barrel of one of the deepest recessions in living memory. But in the clamour to recover this year, I’d ask that we prioritise an inclusive recovery and build an industry that looks and feels different from the dominant industry culture of the past.

Gen Kobayashi is chief strategy officer at Engine Creative