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Achieving real diversity requires changing the way agencies operate

Members of the IPA's Brand Technology Group provide an industry view on the impact technology is having on brands, consumers and agencies.

Kevin Roberts’ recent comments that the gender diversity debate ‘is all over’, have served to focus us on an issue which most agencies know is an industry problem, but are not yet doing enough to fix. As IPA President Tom Knox recently stated, "Let’s be absolutely clear: the debate is nowhere near over." He went on to reference some of the vital initiatives that the IPA champions, all aimed at addressing the need for greater diversity.

One of those initiatives is the Great British Diversity Experiment report, in which Laura Jordan-Bambach talks about embracing messiness and comments on the value of different perspectives in stimulating creativity. I believe that this is something that sits at the heart of producing great work. Creating messiness is not a natural business imperative. It has to be nurtured. We need to curate differences.

The same report also talks about ‘Total Diversity’ and the need to increase gender, ethnic, sexual orientation and disability diversity in the creative workplace – all areas of discrimination that are important for every agency to take action on. I believe that as an industry we are also often blind to age diversity. When 45 counts as ‘too old to be creative’ we are excluding people and experience from all walks of life that would make us even more gloriously messy.

While by no means perfect, the digital industry has always attracted people with different types of skills, outlooks and backgrounds, and therefore naturally lends itself to greater diversity. There was never a ‘traditional’ digital. We grew up messy and are now learning to curate our differences effectively.

Regardless of industry, diversity is essential to true creativity. But achieving the kind of ‘total diversity’ proposed by the report requires going further than hitting a number. It requires changing the way we operate.

Real diversity requires agencies to actually listen to different perspectives. It requires collaboration and respect for each and every individual. The more diverse you are, the more open to different ways of working you need to be. It’s an attitudinal adjustment and a commitment to making the most of all the different backgrounds and perspectives in the room. At times this process will be uncomfortable for some people, but that’s how you create the kind of honest ideas and services that resonate with people today.

Diversity requires an egalitarian structure and an embracing of dissent that allows people to be comfortable being themselves and expressing their point of view. It’s what the report refers to as ‘The authentic self’. I’m proud to be part of a team in London that includes 70 employees from 15 nationalities, speaking 23 languages. We work hard to maintain a flat structure where merit is valued over consensus and where every opinion matters. Not only does this smorgasbord of cultures lead to hilarious meetings but great work too.

If agencies want to do work that matters to real people, they have to have real people driving the work. That is only possible when we all take responsibility for actively creating diversity in our workplaces. Only then will we be on the right path to achieving the braver creative ideas that will excite and engage users, and transform businesses.

Lee Woodard is managing director of Huge and a member of the IPA's Brand Tech Group which provides an industry view on the impact technology is having on brands, consumers and agencies

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