Advertising Diversity & Inclusion

A beginner’s guide to diversity, inclusion and representation in advertising

By Jerry Daykin

September 25, 2020 | 9 min read

So, you want to make a difference to diversity and inclusion in advertising, as well as the positive representation in what we produce externally, but don’t know where to start? GSK's Jerry Daykin, a UK Advertising Needs You and WFA Diversity Task Force board member, shares some of the steps we can all take, individually and collectively, to make our industry better.


Inclusion and representation should matter to all of us, whatever industry we work in, because it’s a positive movement for equality which benefits and enriches us all. For advertisers, however, it’s even more critical because it is literally our job to understand, reflect and effectively communicate to an audience which is by definition diverse.

If we don’t have diverse minds and opinions shaping that advertising, if we don’t draw on insights which truly explore the positive differences in our consumers, if we don’t find ways to communicate and positively represent our target audiences, then we aren’t doing our jobs.

That is why the Advertising Association, Isba and the IPA joined forces to create The ‘UK Advertising Needs You Hub’, a showcase for the many diversity and inclusion initiatives in our industry. It is here to support all employers seeking to create a more inclusive workplace and to provide people with relevant information, whether they are seeking to work in our industry or are looking to upskill and build their networks.

For me there are two sides to the diversity discussion in the advertising industry, though they are inextricably linked. There’s the challenge of diversity and inclusion without our own teams, across our industry, in senior management, and certainly in events and high-profile positions. Then there’s diversity and representation in the advertising we produce and put out into the world, and the opportunity for that to shape or break positive or negative stereotypes along the way.

Better representation, and frankly just better advertising, follows along closely from the former. Ensuring diverse perspectives, new approaches, out the box thinking, or just basic cultural nuance is a lot easier when the people you have in the room, and the wider teams we work with, have lived experience and perspectives on that. That’s not always the case of course, and it is perfectly possible as an advertiser to shape powerful messages which resonate with consumers quite unlike yourself, but one way or another you need to find ways for those voices to be heard.

Whether intentionally or otherwise the advertising industry, like many others, has not naturally shaped itself to be highly diverse and inclusive. Many people thinking about a career in the industry will look at it, look at its events, look at its leaders, and conclude that it’s not for ‘people like them’. Every time that happens it’s a loss to the industry and to what we could have produced together, and we need to ensure it happens far less. It’s encouraging that this topic, especially in relation to race, has come so far up the agenda but now is the moment to act.

When we talk about solving the diversity problem, we really mean embracing the diversity opportunity. In simplest terms that means ensuring more diversity enters our industry from the bottom up and is allowed to shine right through to leadership positions. That means ensuring that all people feel welcome and valued throughout their careers, that there are policies and procedures in place to ensure fair progression, that we bring a better balance in terms of senior leadership and public industry visibility, and that we work together to ensure our output and work is positively representative throughout.

Driving any change starts by understanding the problem. Typically, that means listening to those affected, opening our eyes to the challenges right under our noses, or holding ourselves accountable for the unconscious bias that we all hold in ourselves. It is NOT the responsibility of those marginalised and misrepresented to tell us how to fix things, they may even justly be tired of relentlessly explaining to people what the problem is at all. We need to respect and understand that.

Listening does start with those around us, with our colleagues, with our friends, perhaps with organised internal groups (sometimes called ERGs) if they exist in your business. It can however also begin by listening to and reading the very many public voices who have written or spoken about issues in this space, there’s really no excuse for not being able to find a perspective to enrich your own, and we can all be enriched by listening to the experiences of others. Many of the partners listed on the ad hub would be delighted to help bring a new and fresh perspective into your business.

Change starts with ourselves, our own actions and our own businesses. Looking critically at our ways of working, processes, culture and actions to understand the points at which diversity is squeezed out of the system. Working with HR to define policies which are fully LGBT+ inclusive, taking action to ensure our offices and other activities are fully accessible to those with varying needs, understanding the ways in which those from other races or cultures can be excluded or not given a voice. It’s important to consider how you will recognise, measure and hold yourself accountable for this change within your business, and ultimately to lock that into your senior leaders’ objectives if we really want to see change.

I’m sure no company is perfect on this, but many have a good record of trying and together with external organisations can begin to show a template for the changes you might want to make.

Then comes the question of how together we drive change across our wider industry. Of course, that begins with countless changes within countless companies but there’s also a collective responsibility to move the needle on a bigger scale. We need to work harder to celebrate the diverse voices we do have, to give them a platform to shout about their achievements and opinions, and to role model the opportunities that do exist in our business.

Frankly we need to do a lot more to advertise advertising to a broader audience that probably isn’t even considering a career in the industry. To reach out well beyond the top universities and to encourage those from a wealth of backgrounds to pick it as their career. We need to match that up with initiatives that welcome them of course, that train them and get them started without assuming they have a rich friend or relative in London who will support them as they try to get started. There’s much more to be done here but some notable positive initiatives are trying to solve this which you can read about on our hub and are in urgent need of greater support.

And finally (though I’m sure not exhaustively) comes the opportunity to step-change what we put out into the world. Hopefully this doesn’t come as a surprise to any of you, but advertising actually works – it shapes opinions and changes people’s actions for the better or worse. Advertising has a chequered history of poor inclusion, which is to say the stories told and the actors cast in our productions often do not truly reflect the reality of the consumers we are talking to. Worse than that though, advertising has also historically struggled to feature positive representation, which is to say that where diversity has appeared it often plays a supporting role and slips quickly into stereotypes.

You also shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the Advertising Association and its associated members feel very positively and optimistically about the opportunity advertising has in breaking these stereotypes and being a part of wider societal change. Research by GLAAD and P&G in the US has recently shown that simple exposure to progressive, LGBT+ representative advertising can shift people’s opinions. It makes them more likely to welcome an LGBT+ family member or colleague and makes them more likely to agree with the need for equal rights.

Helpfully, there’s also a wealth of evidence that progressive and more representative advertising drives better business results too, so it’s not a choice between doing the right thing for society & your people, or the right thing for your business. Diversity & representation in your comms doesn’t necessarily mean jumping all in on purposeful storytelling, it begins with casual casting and representation that every brand should consider.

When you embrace diversity, inclusion and representation everyone wins, and we hope the resources and organisations featured on the UK Advertising Needs You hub will help us all get there. For those working in global roles you might also want to consider the WFA’s Diversity & Inclusion hub, including their Diversity Task Force.

Jerry Daykin is senior media director at GSK, and a UK Advertising Needs You and WFA Diversity Task Force board member.

Advertising Diversity & Inclusion

More from Advertising

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +