Are agency diversity initiatives delivering results?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Studies find that diverse teams are better at problem-solving.

‘Record levels of BAME diversity in UK agencies’ read the Drum headline. This sounds like good news. Real progress. Or is it? Response rates to the IPA Diversity Survey fell to 70.8%, a fall of 15% percentage points. This was a lower response than when the IPA launched the survey.

The cynic in me thinks that the agencies proud of their progress will have taken part. And the rest would have found a reason not to through fear of being called out.

I read blogs or hear an agency leader celebrate everything they are doing and rarely does their ‘strategy’ go beyond partnering with one of the many (excellent) internship schemes. There, diversity box ticked. Which makes me think…are agency leaders aware of how they should achieve ‘diversity’ goals.

If agencies are to really enjoy the benefits of diversity (problem solving, innovation, creativity, access to new markets, etc) then they need to move beyond tick-box strategies and build an inclusive culture. A place where creative talents from all backgrounds can feel a sense of belonging and create their best work.

Here are few pointers that I took away from a lecture at LSE last year from the highly impressive Quinetta Roberson and what we build into our every day.

Diversity and inclusion are not the same

The first step of delivering meaningful change is to separate our diversity and inclusion. Diversity is a statistic that provides a view of representation of the workforce. However, just being ‘diverse’ does not give you the commercial and cultural benefits of ‘diversity’. Consider the hospitality industry. Very diverse but non-white and female talent is concentrated in the lowest paid roles.

Diversity is more than surface deep

Diversity statistics will focus on gender, ethnicity and sexuality. However important these are, you can only achieve the commercial benefits if individuals have different backgrounds, experiences, outlooks and skills.

Inclusion is delivered through meaningful participation

An inclusive Culture is often described by being the opposite of ‘Exclusive’. Giving access to people from all backgrounds is just the first step. An Inclusive Culture is one that allows meaningful participation to all individuals to the culture and business drivers.

Focus on end user experience

Most agencies start with policies and practices when asked about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In big corporates, this will mean mentoring, bias training, etc.

Quinetta Roberson took learning from Design thinking. Focus on the end user (the employee) and work back. What are conditions that will maximise their motivation and ability to contribute to the organisations success? Through focusing on the individual, it avoids the trap of harmful stereotyping of communities within organisations.

Conflict is where the magic happens

The McKinsey ‘Why Diversity Matters’ work demonstrates that the benefits of diversity are driven through diverse teams solving problems. These teams create healthy challenge, different perspectives and new solutions. Bear in mind that the benefits can be diminished as that team becomes more familiar and thinking becomes aligned.

At the Elephant Room, our core focus is to create a more representative leadership team and work every day to create an inclusive culture where exceptional talent from all backgrounds feel like they belong.

We are already talking to and working with organisations and agencies who have approached us to help guide their thinking, share learnings and best practice We’d gladly share what has worked for us to help others experience the benefits of diversity and inclusion.

Dan Saxby is managing director of The Elephant Room

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