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Ad professionals trust agency diversity pledges, but there’s fear momentum has ‘fizzled out’

Advertising agencies were among the first sectors to take a stand against racism and inequality

Professionals working in the UK PR and advertising industries are firmer in their belief that diversity and inclusion have truly been a priority for their bosses since last summer than the rest of the UK workforce. That is according to fresh research from networking group People Like Us and Censuswide exploring the impact the Black Lives Matter movement has had in the workplace.

The research reveals a divided national response following protests last year, with two-thirds (67%) of London professionals saying that diversity and inclusion are a higher priority for their company since the movement came into the spotlight in 2020. However, this falls to well under a third of workers outside London.

Overall, 35% of UK employees believe the momentum of diversity has ‘fizzled out’ in the workplace since it was in the public eye in the summer of 2020. That number shoots up to 57% when the same question was asked to Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) workers.

The impact of BLM in the workplace

  • The study grilled 1,300 professionals to gauge how deeply the principles of diversity and equality had penetrated different industries.

  • The results were clear, with PR (81%) and advertising (75%) the most likely sectors to prioritize equality since the summer, while just 40% of IT and telecoms employees reported the issues as being important to their companies.

  • Drifting further down the leaderboard, it becomes clear that the reverberations arising from the pandemic have shifted priorities in sectors such as healthcare, manufacturing & utilities and travel & transport, where just 32%, 21% and 12% of respective respondents cited inclusion as a priority for their companies.

  • Across the board, 49% of those polled felt positive steps forward had been taken, while only 13% of people reported an increase in hiring of workers from Black, Asian, mixed-race and other minority ethnic backgrounds.

  • At the other end of the scale, 29% confirmed that their employers had done nothing in response to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

  • Positive action tended to fall within three main categories, according to the report, with 24% addressing staff on the matter, 22% offering training sessions to counter unconscious bias and 20% promising to update diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies.

  • Darain Faraz, co-founder of People Like Us, said: “The differences our survey has delivered are stark and worrying. It’s a tale of London v outside London, it’s a story of senior v junior staff, and the findings are emphasized even further when you look at the industry-by-industry comparison.

  • ”The results point towards the need for bespoke solutions for specific audiences. While nationally there is a net-positive attitude to D&I since BLM, the moment you dig a bit deeper the story becomes markedly different.”

What are ad agencies doing about a lack of diversity?

  • Advertising agencies were among the first sectors to take a stand against racism and inequality, with companies pledging action both internally and industry-wide following the death of George Floyd while in police custody.

  • Action is required in this area with figures highlighting the scale of the challenge facing an industry where the number of employees from a minority ethnic background fell in the financial year 2018-19.

  • Over this period, the proportion of BAME employees employed by British creative and media agencies fell from 13.8% to 13.7%. Clear differences emerged between junior and senior pay grades, with diversity improving among the lower ranks from 16.9% to 17.7% over the year, even as it dropped 0.8% to 4.7% in the boardroom.

  • Conscious that much more needs to be done, UK ad agencies banded together last June to pen an open letter coordinated by Creative Equals, pledging to ’maintain inclusive cultures that are sensitive to the enduring injustice and pain of racism’.

  • A similar letter signed by 6,000 black ad professionals was also published detailing a 12-point call for change.

  • Holding companies behind some of the world’s biggest advertising firms responded positively to the letter, with WPP pledging ’decisive action’ on each of the 12 points raised.

  • For its part, Publicis has appointed a diversity progress council to report on the success of its initiatives to improve equality.

  • The Drum pulled together all concrete pledges of actionable steps taken and promised by the likes of IPG, Omnicom, Havas and Dentsu last summer to illustrate the direction of travel.

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