Some Things Never Change: Diversity

Diversity and representation in the creative industries are very current topics, but take a journey through the CR archives and you’ll discover these are conversations that have been going on for decades. Which begs the question: how far have we really come in the past 40 years?

Diversity: it’s a word that evokes passion as much as eyerolls. In some cases, it can be a potent catalyst for meaningful change; in others nothing more than a 21st-century buzzword shoehorned into press releases. But irrespective of the term itself, the issue it pertains to is one that has long plagued the creative industries – the ‘pale, male and stale’ formula that has thrived in the sector since its dawn.

Although diversity has become much more of a focal point lately – our coverage of the topic has increased considerably in recent years – in fact, the narrow demographic present in creative departments has stoked intense debate for decades.

As early as 1990, Adam Lury wrote that “most ­people in advertising are intellectually in the 1950s. Then ads reflected the idea of a good (white) middle-class Britain. Ads have got funnier, but underneath things ­haven’t changed that much.” Several years later, Helen Jones ­declared the death of the housewife, highlighting that twee kitchen-centric ads were out of touch, and those creating the work needed to catch up to modern times or simply hire more women in decision-making roles – a point that remains familiar today.

An article by Helen Jones in May 1997 examining the advertising industry’s outdated attitudes towards women

It’s hardly a revelation that creative departments have traditionally been a testosterone-filled domain, home to a dynamic that one respondent in the IPA’s 1997 census called “intensely masculine, very aggressive and very uncooperative”. The repercussions of this extended beyond agency walls as women struggled to get hired in disciplines such as commercial photography, despite a near even gender split on art, design and photography courses at creative schools in the 90s.