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Brands must adopt the same approach to diversity as they do marketing briefs



Brands must adopt the same approach to diversity as they do marketing briefs


I was on a panel the other day talking about increasing ethnic minority representation in the out-of-home advertising sector, organised by Balance, an initiative supported by OOH specialists and media owners to drive greater diversity. The focus of the discussion was on the workforce rather than representation.

It is a subject about which I am passionate, so not surprisingly I really enjoyed it. I was excited by the level of interest in the subject, both from young people who were just starting their careers in the sector and their senior leaders.

There were a few common themes, none of which were terribly surprising. Reflecting on the discussion a few days later, it occurred to me that we need to adopt the same approach to diversity (in this case ethnic diversity) as we do marketing briefs.

First things first, you need to define the brief. What is the problem you are trying to solve? Is it that you are struggling to recruit people from different backgrounds? Is it a retention problem? Is it a problem throughout the organisation or just at the top? Is it all these and more? My strong advice is that you tackle things in bite-sized chunks; don’t try to boil the ocean.

Feeling like I can be me and not a white, male version of me makes a massive difference to how I feel about work and to my performance.

As with everything we do as marketers, data is our friend. Review how many people from your target audience are applying for roles, getting past the first sift, being interviewed, getting offers, accepting offers, passing probationary periods, getting promoted, getting opportunities to work on special projects, getting pitch experience, being put on performance plans.

In short, you need to measure who is succeeding. The numbers will give you a clear picture of what is going on in your organisation. Of course, they can’t tell you why but at least you will know where to look.

Talking of looking, you need to think carefully about the audience you are trying to reach and where you might find them. In recruitment terms I know it is hard – we remain an industry that people want to join so most of us have queues of junior people who want to work for us.

The easiest thing in the world is to select new team members on the recommendation of people we know. We can all think of the offspring of senior members of staff, clients or mates of the CEO who managed to land an account exec role.

They may well be very good as individuals but appointing them is probably not going to increase the diversity of your workplace. You have to look beyond the usual suspects and usual places, targeting recruits in the places they are most likely to be, not the places you are.

Marketers urged to open-up hiring processes to diverse talent

Yes, people from ethnic minorities do go to Oxbridge and other ‘prestigious’ seats of learning (I went to LSE) but – let’s be honest – not in great numbers; not in the numbers they should. There are lots of other universities producing great graduates with relevant degrees from a much richer ethnic mix.

And if you really want to be bold you could eschew degrees completely and hunt out people with the creative skills you are looking for who didn’t go to university. Not easy, I know, but if marketers, of all people, don’t know how to reach them then we are in big trouble.

You might also want to think about covering expenses for interviews, especially when you are asking people to travel across the country. I know a few young people who had to borrow money for the train fare for interviews in London.

Then we come to a challenge that marketers face all too often: making sure the reality lives up to the dream we have sold. Having brought people from different backgrounds into our businesses, we have to work hard to make sure the workplace is one in which they feel welcome and can thrive. And as with our day jobs, this is not something over which you can have complete control.

You need colleagues from across the business to work hard to create an inclusive culture – one where with zero tolerance for bigotry; a place where everyone can bring their best self.  I know that sounds trite but feeling like I can be me and not a white, male version of me makes a massive difference to how I feel about work and to my performance. I would also encourage you to identify people in your business who can be mentors, supporters and champions of your minority staff – brand ambassadors, if you like.

Finally, we need to set measurable and stretching targets on diversity – particularly on progression – for the whole business, not just the HR team.  As an industry we measure absolutely everything. We measure to demonstrate effectiveness, value for money, return on investment. It strikes me as odd that we shy away from measuring and being accountable in the diversity space.

We don’t take that approach when it comes to other performance indicators like the budget. Why do we tolerate it for this one? In my experience, what gets measured gets done.


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