39% of UK agencies employ no people from underrepresented ethnic groups, study finds

By Sam Anderson | Editor, The Drum Network

Hallam

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May 19, 2022 | 3 min read

A study conducted by agency membership community The Agency Collective and Nottingham-based digital agency Hallam has found that almost two-fifths of UK agencies employ no people at all from underrepresented ethnic groups.

Intended as the inaugural benchmark in a yearly study, the research surveyed over 100 agencies from the UK. The focus was on smaller agencies (over 50% employed fewer than 10 people) but also includes larger agencies (up to 100+ headcount).

In addition to finding that 39% of those surveyed employed no workers at all from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds, the study found that more than half of the agencies surveyed were “less diverse than the general population.” The data tells a story of some employers lagging behind while others are making real progress; 23% of the agencies in the survey were above the UK’s averages in terms of ethnic diversity.

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The study authors found that this disparity may be down to leadership: if leadership is predominantly white, the agency’s workforce is likely to be too. Speaking of problems at the top: 75% of leadership teams were exclusively white. Only 43% of leadership team members were women, despite a slight skew toward women (48%) in the overall workforce.

Barriers to ascension

Hallam’s Kiorhte Aghoghogbe highlighted that the data indicates that, even when they are given early-career opportunities, the industry is failing to progress both women and people of color to leadership roles. “I’ve worked in the agency world for a long time now and have often been the only Black person working at that company,” Aghoghogbe said. “The issues of diversity and inclusion aren’t answered unless the managing director or the owners find it’s going to affect them, winning a pitch or making them money. They won’t touch the subject until an RFI comes in and it’s like, ‘right, who can we round up? Who can we show in the pitch to show we’re this diverse agency?’”

Aghoghogbe and The Agency Collective’s managing director Ellie Hale agreed that progression is a core issue, and that it can’t just be addressed at the point of promotion to leadership. Hale said: “People making hiring decisions, and in charge of promotions, have to actively encourage underrepresented groups to apply for roles and promotions. Historically, unless your first working experience is positive – one that enforces confidence and ambition in you – the learned behavior is that you can’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t strive or push.”

“Especially for women in agencies, it tends to be: ‘Well, women just don’t apply,’” said Hale. “Well, why aren’t they? It’s not enough to just hire the right people for the job any more. It doesn’t matter how educated you think you are – there’s always something you can learn.”

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