Advertising Diversity & Inclusion Career

What marketing agencies can do right now to make diversity more than just talk

By Jo Wallace | Creative Director

December 7, 2017 | 9 min read

Enough with all the nodding around the need for diversity (especially nodding off through boredom). Here’s how we can make it more than just talk.


I spoke at the launch of the Jolt Academy the other day. Jolt is an initiative set up to support and nurture amazingly talented creatives from a huge range of backgrounds, representing real diversity. The audience, 30 interns discovered through partners such as D&AD and Scope, was purposefully almost equally women to men. In fact, there were more female interns than male.

The week before that I hosted the 14th Good Girls Eat Dinner – a non-profit initiative I set up over two years ago to provide kick-ass, female, creative role models across the creative industries. As always the buzz of inspiration and empowerment throughout the fifty-strong female audience was palpable.

But for all this positivity, the recent Tindall-gate did reaffirm that a hell of a lot of people are literally sleeping on the job when it comes to diversifying their creative department beyond white, pale, stale males.

Despite so much talk and agreement on the importance of diversity for the creative industry there are still far too many creative departments with zero female or BAME creatives.

How can we turn the horror and shame we all felt when Tindall-Gate broke into actual, substantial change?

I can’t believe it’s really that hard.

Here are 10 proactive suggestions to turn this ongoing conversation into action. Actually, nine, because one of them is unprintable.

One big waiver I’d like to add first: if you’re going to troll me as an angry, white, privileged man claiming that you’re now at a disadvantage, (yes, I’ve had several white, privileged men try to convince me of this ridiculous notion), please check your stats, and please #CheckYourPrivilege. If I may point out, you still account for at least 80% of senior creative roles. Even after a concerted effort in recent years, women still only represent 13% of creative directors and still, in 2017, only 8% of senior positions are held by someone who’s black or from a minority ethnicity. Statistics, history and the resulting bias in society demonstrates that you are in fact unfairly advantaged.

1. Stop saying the words ‘I just hire the most talented people.’

If your department is full of white, straight men then there’s a very good chance you’re confusing talent with privilege and when that sentence comes out of your mouth you’re basically equating diversity to ‘talentless’.

Open your eyes. Open LinkedIn. Open a new email and write to recruiters, open a door and speak to creatives who regularly give book crits. Most of all: open your mind. There are plenty of brilliant creatives out there who aren’t white, heterosexual men from a privileged background.

2. Celebrate the diverse creative talent you already have.

Put your people forward or make them aware of relevant initiatives, like Future Leaders, Woman of Tomorrow, The Dots Championing of 11 BAME leaders during Black History Month. They’ve had to fight hard to even make it into a creative department so they deserve recognition and support. Your pride in their success will also signal to other creatives that you’re going to take them seriously as an employer. Remember, a few token minority hires does not mean you’ve solved the problem, just like how having a black president didn’t solve the United States’ race problem. Changing the wider culture of white, male supremacy long term is what will solve the problem.

3. If you don’t have any creatives who aren’t white, male, heterosexuals, return to point 1.

Your clients will soon insist on it anyway. Even back in 2015, when he was still president of PepsiCo, Brad Jakeman was crying out: “I am sick and tired of sitting in agency meetings with a bunch of white straight males talking to me about how we’re going to sell our brands that are bought 85% by women.” Stats prove that companies with women at board level are more profitable and this is a common theme of the insights within our global Women’s Index study, part of Female Tribes. Diversity will have a positive impact on your bottom-line.

4. Make sure a different perspective is involved when it comes to interviews.

Senior female and/or BAME employees are less likely to foster the unconscious bias proven to result in white, straight guys hiring in their own image. At the same time, educate managers of people about the reality (and dangers) of the phenomenon of hiring people ‘just like them.’ At J. Walter Thompson London we try to always live by this, knowing that it will increase the chances of hiring more diverse perspectives and that in turn will lead to better creative work.

5. Stop pigeon-holing creatives.

Stop limiting the briefs you give teams based on your own judgement of what they might be good at. For example, just putting female creatives on ‘women’s brands’ is insulting and the fastest way for them to lose motivation. A recent survey by Creative Equals discovered that 45% of women haven’t been on a pitch in the past year. Signaling that only guys can be trusted to handle the important stuff. How can they learn and grow as fast as their male peers when they’re not given the same opportunities?

6. Stop making the lack of diversity everyone else’s fault, like they should somehow do more to be seen, or do more to be hired.

The whole ‘Lean In’ phrase has always struck me as hugely flawed and unfair and just last week a scientific study by Harvard Review finally proved that women are treated differently to men, even if they behave in the same way. So, let’s stop blaming the minority for their lack of success and address the behaviour of the majority. How can they ‘lean in’ when they’re not even invited to sit at the bloody table? According to ‘Lean In’ studies, women aren’t expected to reach equality with men for another 100 years. WTF? At J. Walter Thompson in London we have implemented Diversity & Inclusion training which all staff take to ensure we’re ahead on both these issues.

7. Call out bad behaviour.

If you know someone is behaving badly in the workplace, speak out.

While I was freelancing a while ago, I encountered the most vile creative director imaginable. First off, he assumed I was account management - no doubt because I’m a woman - when I was in fact also a creative director. Then, embarrassed by his own ignorance (I hope), plus the fact he clearly hadn’t read the brief, he proceeded to attempt to bully me into believing my solution was wrong.

Prior to the meeting every single person who worked with him (5 people) had independently warned me how awful he was. Following my meeting with him, I complained. It’s not ok.

8. Have clear policies around diversity and inclusion and be open about the protocol for when someone needs to speak out and report something.

Leaving any grey area where it doesn’t seem like a priority to treat people equally opens the door to bullying, sexist, and/or racist behaviour.

9. Accept that flexible working doesn’t mean dossing.

Many women have kids. But guess what, so do men! They helped make them. True story. So why do women take the main burden? Why is it the accepted norm that it’s their career that should go on hold, resulting in them needing to leave the industry? That’s a lot of talent lost for the sake of not allowing a more flexible approach to work. If we could embrace more flexible or remote working not only could we benefit from the talent of many women that we currently lose, we could also allow men to take on more of the child care. Which, let’s face it, is only fair. Stats also prove that working women still do more than 70% of house work despite having full time jobs, so step up – she’s done a full day’s work too.

Last year we instigated something called JWT Family – this is a group for parents (not just mums) designed to help them maintain the correct work-life balance. And I say designed purposely because the group was created 100% by workshopping with every parent in the building at the time and is based on all their suggestions of what they would want.

When we still have only 13% of senior creative roles held by women and only 8% of senior roles held by people who are black or from a minority ethnicity, you’ve got to question: are we really fit for purpose? Are we really the future-facing industry that we claim to be?

I’m bored with the feeling that we’re not.

Advertising Diversity & Inclusion Career

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