For diversity in advertising, we need equality in education

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The lack of diversity within our industry surely cannot be a surprise to anyone any more. Despite decades of articles and initiatives, progress remains painfully slow. How long will it take before we really stop in our tracks and examine the source of this problem?

Well, approximately 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The killing of George Floyd sparked the world’s largest wave of introspection on racial prejudice – could it also ignite a change in how we attempt to remove this prejudice in our industry?

I believe that change needs to start early. Achieving equality and diversity in advertising will remain almost impossible until there is equality in education and opportunities for all.

That’s why I have started a petition to remove student names from all classroom tests and college names from all UCAS applications, in order to overcome unconscious bias and allow all students to be considered on merit alone. This is a simple, easily actionable change that would make a monumental difference to so many lives, and businesses. It would be incredible to reach the 100,000 signatures needed to compel discussion in parliament.

Equality in access

Over 60% of those working in our sector are educated to degree level or higher. However, Black people are underrepresented at universities, particularly the top tier. If they lack the benchmark qualifications listed on job specs, many Black candidates are deterred from even applying, ruling out a career in advertising from the outset.

Of course, this underrepresentation is no reflection of aptitude. Black children are continually marked as under-performing v their white classmates. The exception to this is during exams, when the student’s name is removed from the exam entry. At GCSE, Black African pupils surpass the performance of white pupils.

On top of this, Black children are more than twice as likely to be living in poverty compared to those with a white head of household. That means the name of their college or the area they grow up in may also hold connotations that negatively affect their chances of admission.

Although UCAS has removed student names from application forms in an attempt to overcome unconscious bias, other personal information may still have an impact. Focusing solely on a student’s aptitude instead of being influenced by their background sets everyone up for a fairer chance at success. How many more pupils would have ambitions and dreams if they were supported and valued for their effort and talent rather than their skin colour? How many would succeed at university if they were given the chance to attend?

Equality in advertising

Diversity and inclusion committees have become commonplace in many agencies and businesses. But the Black Lives Matter movement is an opportunity to shift our approach. It moves the focus away from catch-all ‘BAME’ measures and towards dismantling the systemic racism that causes a lack of representation in the first place.

From recruiting via blind CVs to unconscious bias training, important steps to tackle workplace discrimination are being taken. However, although we can work tirelessly to support our Black colleagues and push for fairer opportunities, if there are not enough Black people making it into advertising then we’ll never be able to level the playing field.

That’s what compelled me to create this petition. If bright Black students were finally recognised with the qualifications they deserve, the advertising industry – along with multiple others – could tap into the best talent and reap the numerous benefits of a truly diverse workforce.

If we want to drive real change within our industry and make it a safe and attractive career option for Black employees, we must also think broader and deeper about where that change comes from and look at the system that brings Black applicants to our doors.

Please sign and share to help make a difference at the root of the issue:

Megan Thompson, data planning director, RAPP

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