Advertising trade bodies and bosses from some of the UK’s largest agencies have signed an open letter pledging solidarity with the black community, promising to take action on inequality and “maintain inclusive cultures that are sensitive to the enduring injustice and pain of racism”.
Chief executives at some of the UK’s biggest advertising agencies, platforms and trade bodies — including WPP, Publicis, Facebook, ITV and the IPA — have pledged to tackle the “systemic inequality” within the industry and support black talent.
Lending their signatures to an open letter coordinated by Creative Equals, a body dedicated to promoting diversity in the workplace, the promise from 200 UK industry bosses comes against the backdrop of continued protests in the US and beyond following the death of George Floyd in police custody.
A video showing a white police officer in Minneapolis continuing to kneel on Floyd's neck even after he pleaded that he could not breathe has reignited deep-seated anger over police brutality against black Americans.
“While the brutality has brought widespread shock, the direct effect of this injustice and violence on people of colour in our industry cannot be underestimated,” explains the letter from UK ad executives, which work with and represent clients like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Unilever.
The letter continues: "It is not the sole responsibility of our black colleagues to address this imbalance, nor to educate us on the inequities that racism in our industry creates.
"As inequality is so ingrained within the fabric of society and our sector, this is a problem we need to take action on together to affect change. We can all self-educate. We can all challenge our prejudices and those of others. We are all able to prioritise diversity, equity and inclusion at this critical time."
The initiative asks all industry leaders to be intentional in their support for black talent at this time, with signatories promising to hold themselves accountable in 10 ways.
These include: making representation a core part of their remit with clear KPIs and objectives; speaking out on racism and using company channels to share links and resources to combat it; enabling employees to understand white privilege; checking in with black employees at this traumatic time and giving them safe spaces for open discussion; ensuring their advertising isn't funding white supremacy or racist content; and implementing incident management plans for reports of racism.
“Today, we say George Floyd’s name and stand with all black talent in our industry,” ends the letter.
A pledge from an industry that's 'going backwards'
The pledge comes from an industry that has long fallen short when it comes to workforce diversity and historically been “male, pale, and stale” in makeup.
Just last month, fresh data from the IPA revealed that the number of employees from an ethnic minority background at UK ad agencies dropped over the past 12 months.
The trade body’s annual Agency Census found that – as well as making up a smaller proportion of the UK agency workforce – staff from black, Asian and minority-ethnic (BAME) backgrounds had seen C-suite representation drop too.
The study, conducted before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold of the UK, paints a picture of the make-up of IPA member agencies in 2019.
Of the 24,866 employees recorded as working in agency land in 2019, the number of employees from a BAME background was found to have dropped from 13.8% to 13.7% year-on-year.
Though diversity at junior levels was up slightly at 17.7% (up from 16.9% in 2018), just 4.7% of C-suite roles were held by employees from an ethnic minority background – marking a drop of 0.8% since 2018.
There was, however, an uptick in the number of BAME chairpeople, chief executives and managing directors, up from 2.9% to 4.1%.
Nonetheless, the figures revealed agencies to be falling behind in meeting the IPA’s diversity targets, which are set at 15% BAME representation in leadership roles and 25% among new starters by 2020.
Today's open letter addressees these numbers, saying: "We have gone backwards at a leadership level... It has never been more important to show up as an industry and face up to our own challenges as leaders. We need to drive equity in our organisations, the people we hire, the work we produce and how we engage with clients."
Though some including Nike, Ben & Jerry’s and Netflix have lent their support to the Black Lives Matter movement and taken a stand against racial injustice and police brutality online, members of of the black advertising and creative community tell The Drum that they’d like to see this solidarity translate to action.
Cephas Williams, founder of 56 Black Men, acknowledges that brands hold global influence on many levels, and so have the power to enact change.
”Now is not the time to be silent, neither is it the time to jump on a bandwagon," he said.
"It’s a time for real reflection and care with regards to how a brand and its leaders stand by the black community at this time and move forward with real steps to end racism and injustice globally and not only on the streets but in their organisations too.
“Organisations cannot promise that their staff are not racist, but they can promise that they will not tolerate it.”
You can read Creative Equals' open letter to the industry, and complete list of signatories, in full below.