National Inclusion Week: seven steps for being more diverse and inclusive in agencies

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The Park provide a 7-point guide on diversity and inclusion ahead of National Inclusion Week. Photo Credit: Rochelle Brown

There is, thankfully, a far greater focus on diversity and inclusion (D&I) in our industry than ever before. Particularly this week in National Inclusion Week. But it is often words as opposed to actions. And that isn’t a criticism, as knowing where to start with D&I can be hard, particularly if you’re a small business without the support and knowledge of a large people and culture (P&C) department.

I was lucky enough to recently join Utopia's inclusion change-makers programme. An initiative from the brilliant team at Utopia that saw around twenty people from a range of companies come together to discuss Inclusivity best practice and commit to working together to achieve industry change. As the co-founder of a start-up experiential agency with a belief in D&I, but without an experienced P&C person, this initiative was a real privilege.

In the spirit of driving change, I wanted to share seven of the key things that were discussed in the hope that you can use them to help make your organisation a more inclusive place. Nobody has all the answers on D&I, certainly not me, and it is a journey not a destination. So please read these as reflections as opposed to hard and fast rules. I hope they’re helpful, and I really encourage discussion and additions.

  1. Be Vulnerable. If you want to create a more inclusive culture you need to be prepared to expose your vulnerability. Pretending that everything is ok creates a culture where it’s not ok to air issues and discuss them. If you show that it’s alright not to be alright your people will believe it.
  2. Be conscious of language. Consider the words you use and the potential unconscious bias that sits beneath their use. Seemingly harmless words like “guys” and “mate” drive gender biases. Describing a project as “mental” is unhelpful for mental health stigma. Etc. etc. Language may seem like a small point but it can communicate something quite different to its intended use.
  3. Hire for “cultural add” not “cultural fit”. If you’re hiring people because they “fit in” you’ll not only create a homogeneous culture but also miss out on people that don’t excel in the traditional personality-based interview chat. This is particularly true for neurodiverse candidates who are often the most creative and interesting people you’ll ever meet, if given the chance.
  4. Involve your people in policy. We heard some fascinating examples (which will remain private) of where people got policies wrong by assuming what was best for their people, as opposed to asking them. Don’t make that mistake. Bottom up not top down.
  5. Don’t hide from discussing issues. The course was a refreshing safe place to discuss sensitive topics and the best way to approach them. Don’t be afraid to discuss race, gender, disability, mental health, neurodiversity or any other topic related to inclusivity and representation. As long as you’re coming from a positive place seeking to understand and be more inclusive, it will be received as such.
  6. Belonging is an excellent measure of inclusivity. Measuring the effect of any inclusivity initiative is crucial to converting any doubters of its importance, but also to give you a read of how effective your efforts have been. Measuring the extent to which your people feel they belong is a great measure of this.
  7. Flexible working and parenting isn’t about gender. If you’re talking about “working mums” you should be talking about “working parents”. Making flexible working, parenting, parental leave, and returning to work a female thing as opposed to a parent thing increases the gender divide as opposed to reduces it.

If your organisation is currently living all seven of these then congratulations, you’re well on the way, keep it up. If not, then ask yourself if adopting them would make your company a more inclusive, diverse and vibrant place to work.

Will Worsdell, co-founder & strategy director at The Park.

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