‘Please don’t make me wait 20 years for diversity’: Immediate Future CEO on acting now

As the saying goes, life comes at you pretty fast – but no one could have anticipated the speed at which coronavirus would pull the rug out from underneath the industry and the world.

Meanwhile, the Black Lives Matter movement has gripped the news agenda in the US and the UK, elevating conversations around systemic racism in every aspect of society.

Katy Howell, chief executive officer of Immediate Future, believes that the time for talking is over, and says meaningful action must take place now in order to secure the industry's future.

Here are some of the highlights from the conversation, which can be seen in full here.

On working in the time of coronavirus…

It’s been a rollercoaster, or as some people are calling it – a corona-coaster.

At the moment, for a lot of my friends and peers in independent agencies it’s been a game of two halves. Those that are not digital, or that are more integrated, are suffering a little bit more. Those that are digital have actually coasted through a lot of lockdown and are now seeing further pickup.

The world of pick-up has definitely changed though, and new skills are required. The need for speed is definitely here, and the need to make an impact fast is operationally going to change the way businesses or agencies will have to behave.

On mental health in the industry…

There’s an enormous amount of pressure on those in marketing brand side. There’s a need to do something now. We’re all wondering and worrying about what’s happening and what’s going to come next, when is normal going to come back… and it’s about making sure people completely crumble [under that pressure].

I hope we can see more inter-agency communications and partnerships for people trying to support each other, and that we make wellbeing, whatever is happening, essential. Not just in order to survive, but so we can depend on each other.

On Blackout Tuesday and the issue of diversity...

I spent all of Blackout Tuesday in bits – because it was utter bollocks.

I have worked in agencies for a long, long time and I can tell you that not only are agencies not diverse, they are some of the most racist companies I have worked in on a microaggression level. And I’ve worked in sales companies.

For [big agencies] to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ when there isn’t one person of colour on their senior team or on their board. I was outraged.

I think it would be so much better for agencies to say: ‘We recognise we’re not there yet, we recognise our board is homogenous, we’d like to bring some more life and colour and diversity into it, this is our goal and what we’re going over the next three months, six months, 12 months.‘ That would be so much fun, and they would hold themselves accountable.

It’s not good enough to just write a letter and sign it and say this is what we’re going to be. What are you actually going to do? And how are you going to do it?

I’m way over talking. The action hasn’t been enough and we owe it to the young people coming up through the industry, that they see a future for themselves here.

Please don't make me wait 20 years for this to happen. If this industry doesn’t diversity in the next ten years, it’s going to miss its opportunity because the younger generations will say… if this company is not diverse, I don’t want to join it and that means our best talent, the smartest, brightest, and most creative people aren’t going to join us.

Howell spoke with The Drum's executive editor Stephen Lepitak as part of The Drum's Can-Do Festival, an online event celebrating the positive energy, innovation and creative thinking that can make the marketing community such a powerful force for good. You can watch the interview in full here.

Sign up to watch forthcoming sessions and see the full Can-Do schedule here.

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