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It's not who you know: why agencies committed to diversity need to end nepotism

By Jim Coleman

June 13, 2018 | 4 min read

Work placements have long been a way for young people to get a foot in the door. They are easy CV wins, showing enthusiasm for the ad industry, and at times, a willingness to put some unpaid hours in for the sake of experience.

nepotism ad industry

While this might be great for building client relationships it does very little for improving diversity in advertising

However, these placements are more often than not a result of calling in a favour from a relative, or agency heads taking a friend or client's son or daughter into the office.

In fact, recent research from The Youth Select Committee found that seven in 10 people use family connections to get jobs.

While this might be great for building client relationships it does very little for improving diversity in advertising. Those most likely to get a CV boost are those who are already connected. What better way to populate an industry with people who look and think the same, than source them directly from friends and family?

This is why, to coincide with the recent launch of We Are Upstarts, We Are Social's new six-week creative placement scheme in collaboration with Creative Mentor Network, we also took the somewhat controversial decision to stop offering work placements to client's children, as well as our friends and family.

It wasn’t an easy choice to make. We’ve been exposed to some amazing talent over the years by taking people on work experience and we’ve even hired full time employees as a result.

However, this is unfair on the young people out there who aren’t lucky enough to have this kind of opportunity through their connections.

It’s part of a systemic problem in our industry and indeed our country that leads to workplaces looking the same for generations.

We want a diverse workforce. It isn’t just good for PR, it’s also good business sense. A range of backgrounds within an organisation brings a variety of views and skills to the table.

Long-term, schemes like this will prevent work that’s introspective and irrelevant to the target audience - the best ideas will come from agencies made up of people who think differently from one another.

A multitude of opinions, experiences and mindsets enables agencies to better empathise with the people they are trying to reach.

Like many agencies, we’re still some way off getting it right. While we have a majority of women at board level, likewise across the agency, there’s still work to be done to build a more diverse workplace. But we’re committed to making real change and We Are Upstarts is a reflection of this, ensuring we are recruiting diverse talent and reaching out to communities who may have not heard of us, or understand the creative industry.

The Creative Mentor Network, supports students from low-income backgrounds with passion and curiosity for the creative industry. CMN works with more than 40 schools across London and Greater London, with a high number of students on free school meals and high ethnic diversity. We’re excited to see the fresh ideas our three final candidates will bring to the table.

At the moment, the game is rigged. Agencies need to take action to make sure that everyone has an equal chance of getting a seat at the table. If this means disappointing a relative, or apologising to a client, it seems a small price to pay to ensure fairness, and secure a diverse future for our industry.

Jim Coleman is UK chief executive at We Are Social. He tweets at @MrJimColeman

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