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Diversity & Inclusion Gender Equality

Diversity in our industry needs action, not more talk

By Jonathan Harman, managing director

October 12, 2015 | 6 min read

Diversity is a hot topic of debate in the marketing industry and it’s about time.

Jonathan Harman

Cannes Lions this year took a stance by pushing the diversity agenda with its inaugural Glass Lion, and we should absolutely celebrate work such as the headline-grabbing #LikeAGirl from Procter & Gamble, for challenging stereotypes and bringing equality to global attention.

The marketing industry is in a unique position of influence; it is a key force of growth across all industries, embracing technological and societal change, and is aligned with consumers' emotions and values. It also has the influence, resources and creative skills to communicate across all media, for the greater good. However, on a business level we need to practice what we preach, to look at our own companies and make change happen.

Stephen Lepitak's blog calling for WACL to ‘prove your worth’, pointed at its failures. It was an interesting and lively read, confrontational and clearly designed to provoke open debate, which we should welcome. Importantly, it was clearly informed by the strong opinions and feelings of those who had spoken to him. Although I thought his analysis was harsh, others I have spoken to strongly agreed with him.

While some of the arguments ring true, we shouldn’t get distracted from the important job of addressing inequality by pointing fingers or laying blame. It is too easy to lose sight of the work that WACL does, and opt for attacking its faults instead. Constructive criticism is valid and necessary, and WACL president Lindsey Clay's response was admirably open about where the organisation can improve. The industry needs to look forward, not back, spend less time calling out organisations like WACL for perceived failings, and instead find ways of working with them. Forgive this analogy, but consider Bono. He is easy to poke fun at and criticise – it’s not so easy to listen to his music! – but he has made a difference by doing something.

The comments under both blogs, and on Twitter, show how passionately people feel about diversity in our industry, on how to tackle the subject and whose responsibility it should be. The recent launch of the MAA-backed PrideAM industry LGBT leadership group and the work of Ogilvy Pride should be lauded, and it is absolutely right that we work together to inspire, educate and drive change from the top level. Change comes from the top, but our industry’s businesses also need real results-driven internal action.

Diversity initiatives should be a serious area of investment for our industry. Taking gender inequality as an example, McKinsey Global Institute analysis shows that advancing women’s equality, including at work, could add up to $12 trillion to global economic growth, and that the level of gender disparity in leadership positions at work is extremely high. Last year, McKinsey reported that businesses with the most gender-diverse leadership and ethically-diverse boards would perform better. Diversity makes us stronger, more creative and innovative. Ultimately, it means a better workforce, better brands, and better business.

The CIM’s recent survey of salaries found that while senior marketing positions are mostly balanced between genders, average basic pay for male marketers is over £12,000 more than their female counterparts, and there are also discrepancies for commissions (women receive nearly half) and bonuses (women receive almost two-thirds less). There is no doubt that our industry needs to look at the positive values we ascribe to our businesses, and take real action on this disheartening situation.

The improvement of diversity is something that Royal Mail has faced head on as a company which employs roughly one in two-hundred of the nation’s workforce, so we can speak from some experience on what action is needed. As an organisation of such scale, and breadth, we can’t just pay lip service to diversity; it is vital to our success as a business, and to the personal and professional success of our employees.

Change comes from action, not from indulging in more talk. We have made steps towards better diversity; we are proudly listed in The Times Top 50 Employers for Women, have an above average board-level gender split for a FTSE 100 company, and we do not have a gender pay gap on average salaries. We know that there is still work to be done. We aren't there yet. Results can only be achieved through measurable action and by making it part of company culture.

Strong leadership is needed, but it is important to look beyond the board and senior management. Recruitment and support networks must play their part, to make sure that changes move from board-level intent to company-wide practices. Internally, we have Gender, LGBT, BAME and Disability Steering Groups, and each have key measurements which are reported to our Diversity Council on a monthly basis. The important element here is that these aren't groups designed to just champion the issues; there is measurement, analysis and results.

There are a number of key issues that our industry needs to be on the right side of, including data privacy, high fat and sugar foods and diversity. We are all going to have to find ways of doing the right thing profitably to survive. Our industry faces a watershed moment on diversity, when we must start to embrace talent from all backgrounds and identities. The conversation around WACL on The Drum has stirred up strong feelings, so let's do something about them.

Jonathan Harman is managing director of Royal Mail MarketReach

Diversity & Inclusion Gender Equality

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