The industry may have taken strides to improve ethnic diversity in 2016, but the number of people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds in advertising roles has slumped - showing there is still a long way to go.
According to the Institute Practitioners in Advertising's (IPA) 2016 Diversity Study, just 12% of those working in the industry are from BAME backgrounds, showing a slowdown in numbers on 2015 data.
This year for the report the IPA and Campaign magazine broadened out the reach and received responses from 131 agencies including 98 creative agencies. This compares to 2015 where responses were only sought from the biggest 39 agencies with a gross income of £20m or more than 200 employees.
As such, year-on-year comparisons are not possible, but the report did find that this year's figure was slightly lower than the previous years where BAME employees were represented at 13.1% and 13% in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
BAME individuals currently make up around 14% of the UK population, however since a high number of larger ad agencies are based in London the figures show agencies must work harder to achieve ethnic equality within their walls.
The IPA noted that the long-term data revealed a positive upward trend in terms of the total proportion of ethnically diverse agency personnel, rising from 6.1% in 2007 to the current 12%.
"Diversity of thought leads to greater innovation, creativity and financial returns, as well as increased staff motivation and retention," said IPA President Tom Knox, adding: "so, while I am pleased that this survey has played a part in raising ethnic diversity up the agenda of agency leadership teams, the crucial part now is for our agencies to take action."
As part of its ‘Make the Leap’ initiative the IPA is inviting companies to commit to a series of industry-wide targets, including eliminating unconscious bias through training and achieving 15% BAME representation in senior positions by 2020.
At present, just 4.7% of people working with agency C-suites come from a non-white background, while 5.5% make up other executive management roles, making the 15% target from the trade body an ambitious one.
Achieving such parity in under three-years sets a touch challenge for the industry with many diversity campaigners believing that true change can only come from transforming business culture rather than hiring more minorities.
Across the pond, brands like General Mills and HP have been holding their agencies to account with diversity quotas, but Dentsu Aegis Network UK and Ireland chief executive Tracy De Groose remains unconvinced this is the answer.
"Diversity is counting your people; Inclusion is making your people count,” she told The Drum last year. "We need to aspire to improve the numbers, but unless we transform the culture, we will be treading water."
Interestingly creative agencies had a slightly higher percentage of BAME individuals sitting in chair, chief executive and managing director positions at 5.3%, while media agencies BAME leadership figures were poorer at 3.1%.
The Drum's own 2016 Diversity Census found that 85% of the industry identified as white, while 33% said they had attended a fee-paying school, suggesting the industry is not reflective of wider society.
Part one of the IPA's study focused on gender, revealing that the men still dominated senior positions within ad agencies.