Recently, my eye was caught by the release of the annual IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) census. Many people assume creative industries are very diverse, but this survey actually found that fewer people from ethnic minority backgrounds were employed at the Institute’s member agencies this year than last year.
Let’s break that down a bit. The overall drop was small, from 13.8% in 2018 to 13.7% in 2019, but as always, it’s a bit more complicated than that! Seniority levels were divided into five categories: C-suite; heads of department; other senior staff; middle managers; and junior/executive/assistant. Only in those last two categories has the number of employees from ethnic minority backgrounds risen (from 12% to 14.5%, and from 16.9% to 17.7%, respectively). As you head up the ladder that percentage shrinks and shrinks – it was just 4.7% at the C-suite executive level in 2019, down from 5.5% in 2018.
Now, I do want to point out some positives in the census. Breaking down the C-suite category, there’s been a steady rise in chair/CEO/MD roles held by people from ethnic minority backgrounds, from 2.9% in 2018 to 4% in 2019. And the overall picture shows a positive trend – ethnic minority representation overall has risen steadily, going from roughly 9% to 14% between 2009 and 2019.
Advertising, marketing and media agencies are also doing better than companies in many other industries. In FTSE 100 firms, only 3.3% of chairs, CEOs and CFOs were from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds in 2019, and representation in general hasn’t shown much progress over the last few years.
With all this in mind, I was happy to see the UK advertising industry’s pledge to improve, in an open letter coordinated by Creative Equals and signed by around 200 UK industry bosses. It points out how existing racial inequalities have been thrown into stark relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the global BLM movement has brought attention to systemic racism against Black people. It also notes that “as a creative sector, what we do and who we represent has a profound impact on culture, yet systemic inequality continues in our industry.”
Signatories have put their names to a ten-point plan to take action in rooting out racism, with steps ranging from “enable employees to understand their own privilege” to “examine your preferred suppliers list [to ensure you aren’t] funding white supremacy or racist content.”
I really hope this motivation will translate into action, as the industry has so far failed to meet its own targets. In 2015, the IPA set a goal for agencies to have 15% ethnic minority representation in leadership roles and 25% among new starters by 2020 – which has clearly not been achieved. For comparison, the UK population was around 14% BAME at the time of the 2011 census, while London (where many of these agencies are based) was 40.2% BAME. Clearly, though the industry’s moving in the right direction, there’s much work left to do.
I’ve always said that having a diverse workforce is a net positive for any company. Just in the last few months, I’ve written about the importance of beating bias, how diversity benefits your company culture, and ways to improve recruitment. And if this current cultural moment of engagement with the deep-rooted issue of racism passes, I’ll still keep writing about it. We all need to keep working, building on the progress we’ve already made to create a business environment which reflects the glorious diversity of the world we live in. If we stop pushing for change, we may find – as the IPA census showed – that we start taking steps backwards.