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Diversity in media and advertising - an inside look
November 7, 2022
By Rowan Hamill
“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference,” said British anthropologist, Jane Goodall.
Goodall may not have the same reputation as Henry Ford or Steve Jobs - but this doesn’t mean that business leaders should disregard her words of wisdom.
'Diversity' is the buzzword of the 21st century workplace. Employees are demanding more from their companies - 71% of people acknowledge that they want to work for businesses that value diversity. Companies across the country are pouring money into their Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) programmes.
Adland’s struggles with solving the diversity puzzle, however, persist. The latest All In Census reveals a lack of inclusivity of ethnic, neurodiverse and social backgrounds, which is now threatening to cause a mass exodus within the industry. The working class account for 19% of the advertising sector’s workforce - despite making up 39% of the UK’s population.
So what should diversity look like in today’s business landscape? The reality is that companies need to start looking further afield than the usual crop of university graduates. Low-paid entry roles and graduate schemes are crippling the recruitment process and excluding talented individuals that cannot live within these tight financial constraints.
What can adland do to better attract and retain talented professionals that wouldn’t normally enter into the industry - and what resources would they need to thrive in this space?
A trip down memory lane
Before finding my feet in the digital space, I looked to forge a career as a journalist. Finding my feet in this notoriously competitive industry proved far from straightforward.
I finally landed my first internship - and the first thing that struck me was the number of people around me that didn’t have the same financial challenges as myself. They could afford to spend a year or more learning the trade with little concern for rent or living expenses, a luxury I couldn’t afford.
Fast forward a few years to my time at Sky Media. I was a young woman in my 20s trying to enjoy the London lifestyle - but I was actually poorer than I was as a student. I had to get a job on the side to supplement my main income.
If you spoke to anyone that knew me in those early days, they would’ve told you that I was rather quiet in the office. The reason - I was scared of being ‘found out’ as someone that originally came from a government-funded housing project. It shouldn’t have mattered but I was suffering from full-blown imposter syndrome at the time.
Time to look further afield?
Adland has progressed significantly over the years. It is certainly good at promoting diversity and inclusion - and I genuinely believe it wants to have people from different backgrounds that aren’t afraid to bring different opinions to the table.
The problem is a lack of awareness. A lot of people from working class backgrounds don’t know much about the roles becoming available in advertising, media and tech - let alone understand how to get them.
The current recruitment process is unfit for purpose and is crying out for a complete overhaul. We should be looking at people that a) can succeed in the role despite not having a degree and b) have the means to live in a city on low wages.
The service industry is the perfect example. This is a sector full of hard-working individuals that thrive in high-pressure environments. Making a margin, upselling, acting as the face of the business - all in a day’s work for them. And all are traits synonymous with working at an agency or a sales house.
Shaking up the system
I’m not saying that all organizations are resting on their laurels. Just recently The&Academy was launched - an apprenticeship scheme launched by The&Partnership and mSix&Partners which aims to nurture talent outside of the capital and foster a new digital generation.
This, however, is an exception rather than the rule. Raising base salaries and introducing paid internships are certainly a step in the right direction but more needs to be done. And whilst casting the hiring net wider should be a priority, businesses cannot overlook the need for retention.
It can be a bitter pill to swallow when you start out at a firm, struggling for money - and see colleagues getting sign-off to spend large sums of money on client lunches. Offering signing-on bonuses to help with things like new clothes, , introducing scholarships for school leavers are both effective ways to help those in need achieve genuine life moments - such as putting a deposit down for a first home.
Flexible working has become a popular feature since being introduced during the pandemic and its benefits are well-known. But this model can be prone to facilitating a lack of internal structure. Business and office etiquette are important skills - skills that employees from certain backgrounds may need to get up to speed with. Open forums (potentially anonymous) offer staff the perfect platform to ask questions, which can be enlightening rather than restrictive.
There’s hope for everyone
I wasn’t afforded the same opportunities some of my contemporaries enjoyed, there was no family member that could give me a leg up. Not having a relatable role model to look up to certainly didn’t make things any easier. AdsWizz’s decision to invest in creating opportunities for people like me, who come from humble backgrounds, should be a lesson to businesses everywhere.
Investing in diversity isn’t an optional extra. Adland has to face the facts - more can be done to encourage people of all backgrounds to pursue a career in this industry. And the sooner this happens, the sooner your company can enjoy being home to a new generation of talent that is ready to take on the world.