Neurodiversity Agencies Agency Culture

Nearly half of UK marketing agencies are 100% white (an increase since last year)

By Anna Murphy, Head of Marketing



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August 31, 2023 | 7 min read

Many marketers would like to think that diversity and inclusion problems are only easing. Not so, according to recent research from agency Hallam and The Agency Collective. Anna Murphy breaks down the findings.

A table football team

Are agencies becoming more homogenous? Research from Hallam and The Agency Collective might suggest so. / Mpho Mojapelo via Unsplash

A study conducted by agency membership community The Agency Collective and Nottingham-based digital agency Hallam has found that nearly half (43%) of UK agencies are 100% white – a 4% increase on last year’s figures.

The second study of its kind, the research surveyed over 100 agencies from across the UK, from smaller (46% employed fewer than 10 people) to larger agencies.

While there’s a 4% disparity when it comes to the representation of all ethnic groups in comparison with the make-up of the UK population, the figure for Asian people is far lower than expected, with a 37% underrepresentation of people of Asian ethnicity.

All minority ethnic groups, particularly the Asian demographic, are underrepresented in the workforce and even more so in management positions. PR is the industry specialism with the lowest average representation of black and mixed ethnic groups with only an 11% non-Caucasian workforce.

As my colleague Kiorhte Aghoghogbe, senior account manager and diversity & inclusion lead at Hallam, said: “It’s been over a year since our partnership with The Agency Collective where we created the first-ever diversity and inclusion survey of UK agencies. Last year’s report helped raise awareness of the diversity and inclusivity which exist in the agency world and the purpose of our second survey has been to find out whether last year’s benchmarks had been reached. However, minority ethnic groups continue to be underrepresented, particularly the Asian demographic, and it’s a statistic which demonstrates that, far from making progress, ethnic groups are still not fully represented.”

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Leadership teams are still dominated by men

The study also found that while there are now more women than men in the agency workforce at 54% (an increase of 2% YoY), there’s still not enough women making it onto the leadership teams, with only 40% of senior management team members being female.

While women outnumber men at junior levels, they aren’t progressing through agencies at the same rate as men. When it comes to the representation of women at the management level, the figure is down 3% from 2021.

There’s an equal number of men and women in most specialisms within the industry, but there’s noticeable gender disparity in the areas of PR (almost 80% female) and website development (over 57% male).

But it’s not just gender disparity across various areas of marketing – it’s across working habits, too. 59% of women in agencies work on a fully remote basis, compared to 41% of men.

With more women than men choosing to work on a mostly or fully remote basis, this could be seen as a way to create a more level playing field in gender diversity and inclusion. The flexibility offered by remote working may be another factor, particularly for people with caregiving responsibilities, who are disproportionately women.

Jeni Bond, agency relationship manager at The Agency Collective, said: “With some positive findings in this year’s survey – such as LGBTQ+ representation being double the figure for the UK population – it’s great to see the improvements that agencies have made in the past 12 months, and interesting to see that there are definite areas which agencies still struggle with, such as gender disparity. We hope that by raising awareness of these issues and learning from others, we can continue on our mission to help agencies with their diversity and inclusion journeys.”

Agencies failing to accommodate neurodiversity

Not enough agencies are making reasonable adjustments for employees who are neurodiverse or have a disability.

Just 7% of employees have shared the fact that they have a disability with their employer. In contrast, there was an estimated 14.6 million people in the UK with a disability in 2020/21, representing 22% of the total population. This highlights just how much more work needs to be done by employers to bring this figure closer to the national average. Meanwhile, this year, only 34% of agencies asked whether their employees are neurodiverse (i.e. if they have dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism or ADHD) compared to 43% in last year’s survey.

“With a considerable majority of agencies not asking about neurodiversity, how many people are hiding their disability? And how many of those suffer in silence through fear of discrimination or lack of career progression?” asks Aghoghogbe. “Knowing who in your team needs support not only shows that you care, but also allows you to make adjustments that can enhance their performance and increase their motivation. So ask the question.”

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