Diversity is not our strength

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That’s backwards, surely? At BIMA we do nothing but champion diversity and our recent awards just highlighted the best of agency diversity in action.

But in reality, as an industry, the digital sector’s record is woeful on diversity, and the true picture is sketchy as there are no complete statistics out there that tell the whole story.

What we do know from the broader diversity stats we can access is that women are on less than a fifth of US S&P 500 boards, rising to a bit under a third in Europe. In the UK, only 11% are chief creative officers. Only 0.1% are CTOs.

Ethnic diversity is an even greater challenge. A study from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport showed that 88.8% of all jobs barring tourism in this area are filled with people from a white ethnic group.

This is the status quo, even though there’s any amount of evidence to show that diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a critical success factor. In one survey, 74% of executives agreed that D&I was critical to their success but it was still at the bottom of the pile when it came to corporate goals.

What’s it going to take?

For a start, we’ve got to stop fiddling around the edges. D&I isn’t a side project to pass to a junior staff member to undertake with no money and no resource. You wouldn’t hand your digital transformation strategy to the intern because they won’t stop quacking on about why you’re not more mobile. Why are you doing it with D&I?

Diversity and inclusion is cultural change on a massive scale but right now there are no guidelines and no infrastructure around D&I initiatives. As an industry body, it’s part of our manifesto to change that.

Reports about the extent of D&I in the digital sector and what it means for business are scattered and piecemeal - there are, for example, no real robust stats on diversity of the tech sector. At BIMA we’re looking to build a diversity index in an attempt to understand baseline diversity of the industry - how far the UK sector has come, and how much further it still has to go.

Nothing is successful unless it’s proven to work, and we simply don’t have the data yet. But the information from a diversity index would give us the evidence we need to stop the government devolving its responsibilities on D&I, to get corporates out of the CSR side-project rut and into some real commitment. It would signpost how government, regions and corporates can collaborate for real change.

Regional roles

At BIMA we believe alongside national initiatives, regions have a real role to play. The triumvirate of education, local government and business in a region can achieve great things, as the Northern Powerhouse has demonstrated.

On a smaller scale BIMA is already working hard with the regions individually to set their own framework for D&I. It only takes one region to come up with that blueprint for business behaviour to become an amazing use case or barometer for others to follow.

In Liverpool, for example, we have key figures sitting on both BIMA and the Local Enterprise Council Digital and Creative Board as well as groups such as the Institute of Directors. Other participants pivot around this hub meaning we’re not constantly reinventing the wheel with each initiative.

As a result, the city’s iCatalyst programme brought together different organisations in the sector to understand the needs of those businesses. Alongside this, it created a programme to help bring a more diverse range of talent into STEM, thereby bringing more diversity into the sector as a whole.

The Liverpool project is a great example but it needs further support. As BIMA, it is our job to create that sustained campaign platform for inclusivity. We have the introduction of the diversity and inclusion award as part of the BIMA awards to raise the profile of digital players doing the right thing, but we need more.

Right now we’re sending our own execs through diversity training, and we’re putting our resources behind getting a true picture of D&I in the UK’s digital sector - but none of us are flying solo on this. We know partnership is the way forward. We’ve got to move the narrative of diversity from problem to solution.

If you’re on board with that, give us a call.

Natalie Gross is president at BIMA & managing partner at TH_NK and Nadya Powell is chair of BIMA’s diversity council & co-founder at Utopia