BAME diversity in UK ad agencies is at an all time high – but 95% of C-suites are white

At the moment 94.5% of c-suite execs are white, down slightly on last year's 95.7% / Pexels

Ethnic diversity within the walls of UK ad agencies is at its "highest recorded level" according to the Institute of Practitioners (IPA) 2018 diversity study. However, the industry has still to make significant progress in appointing individuals from black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds to senior positions.

The study, which this year garnered responses from around 105 of IPA's 230 member agencies on their diversity numbers, found BAME diversity had reached previously unseen proportions.

The IPA said that in 2018, 13.8% of UK ad agency employees identified as BAME, up from 12.9% in 2017. When it came to creative agencies, 12.4% of employees were from ethnically diverse backgrounds compared with 10.7% in 2017. For media agencies this figure was 15.2%, an incremental increase on 2017's 15%.

Digging deeper into the numbers, the IPA's research shows that when it comes to BAME representation at board level there's still plenty of progress to be made.

At the moment 94.5% of C-suite execs are white, down slightly on last year's 95.3%. When it comes to chair level board members like chief executives and managing directors, white representation sits at 97.1% and BAME at 2.9% having barely moved from 2017's respective 98% versus 2%.

For other executive management positions 2018 BAME diversity sat at 6.6%, with 93.4% of seats occupied by white candidates.

Within creative agencies and media agency C-suites, creative agencies came out as being more ethnically diverse with 6.5% of bosses from BAME backgrounds, an uptick on 2017's 4.3%. Meanwhile, BAME diversity on media agency boards actually decreased from 5.4% in 2017 to 4.1% in 2018.

The IPA has set targets for ad agencies to have 15% BAME representation in agency leadership roles by 2020, but as of now the figures aren't close that goal.

The trade body also wants a quarter of new starters to come from BAME backgrounds, a target it is closer to achieving. As in previous years, ethnic diversity is highest at junior levels where it reaches 16.9%, up from 16.4% in 2017.

In terms of gender on the C-suite, the IPA wants 40% of women to occupy agency leadership roles in the next two years.

For now, there has been a marginal increase in the number of women with a seat at the table. The number is up from 31.2% in 2017 to 32.7% this year. This marks the second-highest level of female representation in the survey’s history, down from 2015’s peak of 33.1%, and a percentage increase of 4.8% year-on-year.

Across all agencies, more women work in the industry than men (52.6% versus 47.4% with the majority of women in mid-level and junior roles).

In order to reach its targets the IPA supports a number of internal and external initiatives. Other organisations, like Creative Equals, have launched a leadership school to offer support, training and mentorship for women in the ad industry to help advance their managerial careers.

Commenting on this year's diversity study Sarah Golding, IPA President and chief executive of The&Partnership said: “These figures show an encouraging upwards trend, particularly among industry newcomers. However, we still expect and need these figures to continue to climb and start to make a more significant impact on percentages in the more senior positions."

However, the 2018 study had the lowest response rate in the IPA's three-year history and IPA is now planning to make it compulsory for members to submit data.

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