The UK advertising industry is 90% white. How can it become more diverse, not just in terms of ethnicity, but also in relation to class, gender and sexuality so that it better reflects the audiences it is making work for?
Last night, the IPA in London hosted the launch of Diversity in Advertising, a film created by the Ideas Foundation to encourage debate about the lack of ethnic minorities working in advertising agencies. Established ten years ago, the mission of the Ideas Foundation, as explained last night by its founder Robin Wight, is to increase diversity in the advertsing industry by working with schools on education projects and running workshops to encourage students to consider advertising as a career and delivering work experience, internships and apprenticeships in advertising to provide a pathway to that career.
After showing the film, a panel chaired by Sir John Hegarty and consisting of Jonathan Akwue, partner and global client MD at Engine, Angela Rutledge, digital project director at Partners Andrews Aldridge, IPA president Nicola Mendelsohn, Trevor Beattie, founding partner of BMB and Saatchi & Saatchi MD Magnus Djaba discussed some potential ways forward for the industry.
Some key poins came out of the discussion:
1, That work needs to be done at schools to make students aware that the advertising industry is an option for them, both by talking to children direct and to careers advisers (a key part of what the Ideas Foundation does). Also, as both Djaba and Mendelsohn pointed out, parents need to be convinced that advertising can be a suitable career, particularly in the case of parents fom ethnic communities. This problem is made more acute with the rise in tuition fees.
2, That the current placement system, whereby people wanting to go into creative departments are still often expected to work for free, works against diversity. Several panellists made the point that this is a question of class as much as it is of race. Beattie proclaimed that advertising is still the same as it was when he entered it “too posh, too white, too male”. Tuition fees, he noted, are changing the dynamic further, noting that his agency’s placement students have got “posher and posher”. Beattie is doing something about this by funding students via his own foundation and is also adamant that agencies must pay thier placements. “I don’t undersand why agencies don’t pay,” he said. “It baffles me and it makes me ashamed.”
There is also the question of cronyism, with too many placement opportunities and jobs being awarded as a result of nepotism. One HR head from a leading agency in the audience stated that she had found out that at her agency 76% of placements last year were nepotistic, most of them going to the children of clients.
3, That the industry itself is responsible for solving this, not anyone else. Djaba made the point that the way to move forward on this is to make the case for increased diversity as a means to improving the work done by agencies. Both Hegarty and Jonathan Akwue made the point that more progress would be made by making diversity a positive rather than expecting agencies to act out of guilt. Hegarty suggested advertising set itself the goal of becoming the most diverse industry in the UK. Former MP Oona King, now heading uo diversity at Channel 4, suggested from the audience that, to achieve that, advertising could learn from TV and sign up to a similar programme to that operated by the Creative Diversity Network in the television industry.
It’s important to note that advertising isn’t alone among the creative industries in being far less diverse than the population at large. Similar problems exist in design and the media, for example. Hopefully last night will give some momentum to real change taking place in the industry. In the short term, anyone wishing to help is encouraged to contact the Ideas Foundation.
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