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If you can’t change it, grow around it: the leaders rallying for diversity and inclusion


By Laura Blackwell | Content Executive

October 31, 2022 | 8 min read

How do you design a diverse work environment that benefits future generations – and how do you know it’s working? The Drum recently spoke to six marketers about fostering inclusivity and how to drive lasting change.

Kitten playing with weed

When lack of diversity is so deep-rooted, how can organizations know that they’re doing enough? / Dim Hou via Unsplash

If you want to make a tangible difference to a systemic problem, you have to come at it from two angles: advocating for the marginalized and educating those who aren’t yet allies. Serving both groups is one remit in which organizations fall short, says Lindsay LaBennett, vice-president for equity and inclusion at Wasserman.

“It takes a good amount of time and resources to ensure that both of those groups feel seen,” she says. But while companies are investing in this, they must be honest about the progress they’re making. LaBennett adds: “We have to be able to read our impact [...] and not be fearful that the progress isn’t happening at the rate that we want. But those small wins are what’s going to keep the momentum.”

It’s apparent that honesty and transparency are integral to implementing any kind of change around diversity and inclusion – and, ultimately, growth. Zoe Ogden, people director at digital growth agency Impression, says: “I absolutely love the fact that in interviews we’ve been doing here probably over the last 18 months [...] the questions that are coming up aren’t ‘what’s a typical day in the life?’ It’s stuff that is actually challenging like, ‘what are you doing for society?’”

If younger generations, namely gen Z, aren’t afraid to ask these questions, it’s time that leaders were comfortable with being confronted with them.

Focus on what you can change

While awareness is a great first step, organizations often get hung up on what they can’t control. Ogden recalls her previous role working in research and development: “When you looked out into the office, it was not a diverse office [...] but when we looked at the data – this was across the UK and Europe – the amount of people actually doing STEM subjects in itself was so small that I was almost like: how am I supposed to change that?”

For those striving for diversity, it can feel as though the extent of their impact is limited to their existing sphere of influence. In agreement with this perceived educational gap is Ogilvy UK’s head of people Gemma Davies, who believes schools to be quite binary.

“They come up with five careers, almost, that you could go along the trajectory of,” says Davies. “So, how do you make sure when people are going through the school system that you have a part to play in terms of what your business is offering and what careers could look like in the future? So that it’s not reliant on where your family work or where your family friends work, for example?”

Although access to certain industries proves to be a deeply ingrained issue, organizations can instead focus on key initiatives that have a wider impact for the next generation. For Ogden, this involved changing the company’s entire perspective. “We almost accepted that it is what it is at the moment,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to try and make our environment an inclusive place.”

All industries are accountable

Yahye Siyad, diversity and accessibility lead at Cyber-Duck, believes employees specifically at the beginning of their journey are “the most susceptible” to diversity and inclusion, explaining that they are able to be part of the movement and spread the message at the same time, while holding their departments to account.

“I was having breakfast with my eldest daughter, who is five years old, and suddenly she paused and said: ‘Daddy, I wish I was white,’” recalls Siyad. “When I got to the bottom of her statement, I realized that all her toys and characters on TV that she loved, the majority are white with blonde hair […] and that really made me understand that this five-year-old girl has no understanding of colonial legacy or systemic bias. But she just made that observation.”

This kind of subconscious learning intensifies the need for employers to be more representative of minority groups. That the main industries that touch our lives on a daily basis – entertainment, advertising, technology – do in fact contribute to wider narratives that may manifest (for example) in the workplace.

Intention v impact

If companies are expected to be honest about their growth, they must have a way of measuring it. But this can be difficult. “That’s one of the gaps I’ve seen,” says Katie Fishburne, vice-president of organizational development at the Mx Group. “You do a lot of small things, and you see progress, but how can you [measure it] – especially around inclusion and belonging?”

Perhaps the answer is in the end product, suggests Davies – and the wealth of diverse thinking and backgrounds that came to build it. To see this kind of impact, however, it’s crucial for employers to prioritize impact over intention. As LaBennett puts it: “A lot of companies, whether it’s anti-bias training or in certain programming, want to say that ‘we’re doing it.’ But that's not good enough, right?”

Rachel Brown, commercial associate at Porter Novelli, adds that they have been physically attending networking events as a way to connect with people from different groups. “From that, you’ll physically see the work and talent that is out there from people who would never have had the opportunity without these spaces,” explains Brown.

Our panel deems real, actionable diversity and inclusion to be a combination of initiatives to educate and encourage more varied career choices among younger generations, as well as being physically present for marginalized groups. We may not be able to quantify every step taken to ensure inclusivity, but in an industry such as this one, perhaps the results speak for themselves.

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Established in 2005, Cyber-Duck is a leading digital agency that works with exciting startups and global brands such as Cancer Research Technology, The European Commission and Arsenal FC. As a full service digital agency, Cyber-Duck offers creative, technical and marketing services all under one roof. The company blends an ISO-accredited user-centred design process with lean and agile management principles, drawing on investment in creative R&D.

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Ogilvy UK

Ogilvy is all about depth and breadth - we have London's broadest and deepest skillset in communications our award-winning teams work fluidly across our core capabilities Advertising Brand & Content, Experience, PR and Influence. And we have the UK's largest dedicated team of award-winning behavioural scientists in-house.

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Wasserman is a global sports, entertainment, and lifestyle marketing agency with expertise in creating connections between brands, properties, talent, and consumers.

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Porter Novelli

Porter Novelli is the strategic communications company built on purpose to do business better. The way we bring this to life in EMEA is by closing the say-do gap - to create deeply authentic influence and advocacy campaigns. Our key capability areas are; brand growth, corporate counsel, employee engagement and purpose & impact. At the heart of the agency is the Strategic Services hub where we have experts in planning, analytics, insight, influence & advocacy, paid media, data strategy, content and production. Our market-leading communications technology puts audience intelligence at the core of our influencer identification, activation and measurement offering. We work clients including Chanel, Mercedes, VW, Almond Board of California, Nivea, Jaunt Insurance and CFA in transforming how they approach influencer to increase efficiency, effectiveness and accountability for their influencer marketing spend.

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The Mx Group

The Mx Group is the second largest independent, integrated B2B marketing agency in the U.S. Our mission is to impact the marketplace for companies that impact the world. For over 30 years, we’ve created meaningful end-to-end buying experiences for B2B brands. Our clients are leaders and innovators in energy, utilities, manufacturing, hospitality, automotive, health care, technology and SaaS who rely on our expertise to influence and grow their businesses. Our relationships with our clients and people are why B2B Marketing recognized us as Agency of the Year. Our headquarters are in Chicago, but our reach is global. Whether a client is an established or startup B2B brand, we have the people and perspective to be a strong partner that makes a difference.

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