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Diversity & Inclusion Diversity Census Discrimination

Taking steps towards a 'racially, ethically and culturally diverse' workforce – analysis of The Drum's Diversity Census


By Katie McQuater | Magazine Editor

December 11, 2015 | 11 min read

The Drum explores the results of its Diversity Census – a peer survey to establish the levels of diversity across the marketing industries, identify trends and gauge the temperature when it comes to attitudes towards diversity.

Written by Katie McQuater and Katy Young

Over a four-week period, more than 750 respondents completed the Diversity Census survey anonymously via Though open to marketing professionals globally, the survey had its strongest input from the UK, with 60 per cent of respondents based in London. Almost two-thirds of respondents are agency-side (65 per cent), while 17 per cent are brand/client side marketers.

Some key findings back up long-held assertions about the marketing industry, such as the belief that it is not racially diverse – the vast majority (86 per cent) of respondents categorised themselves as white. It also revealed a bias towards degree-level education: only one per cent of respondents have no formal qualification, while more than half of respondents (51 per cent) are educated to degree level.

Elsewhere the industry came out more favourably. The gender split is skewed slightly in favour of women, with 60 per cent female and 40 per cent male, and seven per cent of respondents identified as gay or lesbian, which is higher than the national average.

Almost a third (30 per cent) of all respondents have experienced discrimination in the workplace during their marketing career. Of those, 36 per cent did not report the issue to their employer, and a third (33 per cent) found their employer’s response unsatisfactory. However, the vast majority (89 per cent) of respondents feel that their current workplace is a respectful place with a ‘generally positive’ (56 per cent) culture but 15 per cent don’t believe it is a supportive place for them as an individual.

The Census also found that the majority of respondents (62 per cent) do not identify as any particular religion and that almost a third (32 per cent) are stressed most of the time, with 36 per cent saying they have not discussed their stress levels with their employer.

Pale, male, stale?

With a significant lack of BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) respondents and the majority (86 per cent) of the Census categorising themselves as white, the industry is not reflective of the diversity of the UK population as a whole.

Karen Fraser, director at advertising’s think tank, Credos, says it’s essential for advertising to reflect the nation’s diversity within both its workforce and its output.

Last year, Credos published ‘The Whole Picture’, which examined whether UK advertising is doing enough in this regard. “The report found that while 45 per cent of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people believe advertising represents the UK’s multicultural society, most agree that advertising should try harder to portray them and their lives more realistically. To do so, it’s important that advertising embraces the BAME people in its workforce.

“Most BAMEs (53 per cent) say they prefer brands which meaningfully represent them, with 51 per cent more likely to purchase from brands who do so – showing that diversity is not just good for people, but also good for business.”

Marina Banks, managing partner, head of account management, Ogilvy & Mather London, argues it’s the responsibility of the whole industry to address the problem. She says: “The diversity survey results reinforce the issue that advertising is a white, middle class industry and we all have a responsibility to change that. Not just by attracting people from more diverse backgrounds, but also creating an environment in which they can flourish.

“A more racially, ethically and culturally diverse workforce makes for richer consumer insights and understanding and ultimately more creative and effective ideas.”

The class ceiling

Socioeconomic background and education are also barometers of an industry’s diversity. The Drum’s Diversity Census found that 29 per cent of individuals received a private school education, much higher than the population average nationally – which is seven per cent.

The majority of respondents are university educated, with over half (51 per cent) qualified to undergraduate degree level. Meanwhile, a fifth (20 per cent) hold a Masters degree and 13 per cent have a postgraduate diploma.

Far fewer do not have a university degree; nine per cent are educated to A Level or equivalent, dropping to three per cent whose highest qualification is GCSE level. Just one per cent of the sample described their level of education as ‘no formal qualifications’.

The skew in favour towards university educated individuals could signify an opportunity for the industry to be more creative with its hiring.

Ogilvy Pride head Andrew Barratt believes “tackling the class ceiling is an opportunity for the marketing and advertising industry to progress”. He called for “more programmes to bring in people from state education.”

Chris Hirst, European and UK group chief executive at Havas, describes the high volume of those with a private education as an “anomaly” that must be addressed: “We have to start addressing this together, in the way we recruit, support and train and in the culture we create within our businesses.

“We will only continue to thrive if we bring in new talent with different skills and points of view, across all ages, races and backgrounds with an equal opportunity to succeed.”

Valuing experience

With less than six per cent of the Census sample over the age of 55, age is an often-overlooked factor in diversity discussions. Diana Tickell, chief executive at industry charity Nabs, believes retention is as important as recruitment when it comes to ensuring a more diverse workforce, particularly with the aim of retaining people with experience.

“We must focus on culture as well as recruitment to diversify the sector. We concentrate a lot on bringing new people in, but must also shift towards focusing on transforming corporate cultures once they arrive. If we want to really change the numbers, we have to change both the culture and our approach.

“Recruitment may be the fast track approach to diversity but retention is key, especially when it comes to increasing the dwindling number of experienced over-40s.”


Though the majority of the Census categorised themselves as heterosexual (88 per cent), seven per cent described themselves as gay/lesbian, and two per cent as bisexual.

Ogilvy Pride's Barratt, who has merged personal experience with professional life in establishing the LGBT employee engagement network, is encouraged by the findings.

“The government has estimated that about six per cent of the population are gay/lesbian, so it is strong to see in the report that seven per cent describe themselves as gay/lesbian. However, to track the career development of gay/lesbian people would add a further layer of interest here because there are very few senior gay/lesbian people within the marketing and advertising industry,” says Barratt.

“Also, while seven per cent have admitted to being gay/lesbian on the survey, some of these people may not be out at work. This can damage productivity and employee engagement.”

The Drum's Diversity Manifesto

It’s about business

Diversity isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a business decision. Dynamic teams have proven success in delivering stronger results, so introduce rigorous recruitment processes to avoid inherent bias.

“The business case for diversity is overwhelming – a diverse tribe is a stronger tribe,” says Starcom Mediavest chief exec Pippa Glucklich. “Diversity is about not just characteristics but about the richness of lives lived differently and drawing from all the skills and talents available in people.”

Think positive

Though some of the stats around the topic can paint a gloomy picture, a positive approach is needed to foster greater cultural and organisational diversity in the industry. One way of doing this is to highlight positive role models to foster good sentiments around diversity and influence positive thinking.

Karen Blackett, chief executive of MediaCom, says her visibility has been a factor in changing the make-up of the company.

“People that look like me know it’s an industry where you can progress, you can learn, you can earn… and then serve and help cheerlead the next class.”

Create frameworks for change

In order to show commitment and create lasting change, companies must nurture and invest in the issue, as they would any other strategic decision – creating strategies and frameworks for the future.

Andrew Barratt, head of Ogilvy Pride, advises agencies to develop networks.

“Investment in creating employee networks, enrolling on programmes such as Stonewall Diversity Champions, promoting diverse talent and developing a clear strategy to drive diversity: all of these are important to attract and retain diverse staff, and to give a real quality of diversity branding to the company’s work.”

Track the changes

Like any business decision, tracking and analysing is essential to measuring results. Agencies should keep track of who is employed within their company to identify and address problem areas early.

Stress points

Though not a diversity issue per se, stress can be incredibly debilitating and it is worrying to see almost a third of respondents (32.6 per cent) saying they are stressed most of the time, and a further 4.4 per cent of those say they’re very stressed.

Sophie Ling, chief international talent officer at DigitasLBi, was troubled by the fact that over a third (36 per cent) of respondents have not discussed their stress levels with their employer. “It’s disappointing to see that 36 per cent of people have yet to discuss their stress levels with their employers. What’s more, I’m appalled to see that 15 per cent felt their employer was unsupportive about it,” says Ling.

Nabs' Tickell emphasised that stress levels are an important workplace issue: “Those in the industry should feel happy to discuss their problem to reach a resolution. Sadly, it doesn’t shock me to discover that over a third have not discussed stress with their employer.

“What saddens me further is the statistic around support when those who do pluck up the courage to seek help do so. With 18 per cent stating they found their employer unsupportive or worse, it’s no wonder those in the industry aren’t expressing their worries. It’s so important these feelings aren’t bottled up, and that people find ways to express their concerns.”

Inherent bias

One of the most concerning results of the research is the finding that almost a third (30 per cent) have experienced discrimination in the workplace during their career in marketing.

Of those who have experienced it, 36 per cent did not report the issue to their employer and a third found their employer’s response unsatisfactory.

Qualitative results revealed instances of institutionalised sexism, racism, homophobia and discrimination against working parents, particularly mothers. The long hours associated with the industry are, in some cases, proving prohibitive to parents looking to balance a career with family life.

One respondent shared her past experience of being a single mother working four days a week. She described being expected to “be available” on her day off and work longer hours to “compensate” for not working five days, yet was overlooked in terms of career progression and the benefits offered to her full-time colleagues.

However, inherent or unconscious bias – hiring, promoting and nurturing those with a similar outlook – is a bigger problem for the industry than overt discrimination. Some agencies, including Ogilvy and Starcom Mediavest, are recognising this and introducing unconscious bias training for employees.

It’s clear that in an ever more competitive, creative sector, a diverse industry is a stronger one, and those pushing to address the issue will only benefit.

“Tribalism is a very human characteristic, but we just cannot continue to justify our uniformity as an industry,” says Dare chief executive Leigh Thomas. “It might be rather obvious coming from a South African, but the wonderful Madiba summed it up for me: ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’

The Diversity Census was first published with The Drum's 9 December issue. A copy of the full report can be purchased here.

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