Richard Bundock, managing director at Cohaesus, looks at how the industry can build on the ‘hype’ to make real change and improve the numbers in the long term.
Technology, advertising and communications are all closely aligned industries that pride themselves on being ‘disruptors’; the first to trial new technologies, eager to experiment, unafraid to come together and debate the big questions.
2015 saw the issue of diversity come into focus, with figures like Caitlyn Jenner and Miley Cyrus driving a number of conversations around what it means to ‘identify as’. This has seen a move away from a more traditional approach – one where we ask people to ‘tick a box’ to identify themselves – toward something more fluid.
Unfortunately, this conversation hasn’t fully permeated discussions about the makeup of agencies. The UK is estimated to be 30% BAME (black-Asian-minority-ethnic) by 2045, yet the majority of creative and technology industries are still led by white males.
When generating innovative campaigns, it’s crucial that your team is as diverse as the audience you’re communicating to. Bringing in varying skill sets from different backgrounds across a range of demographics not only makes sense – it’s invaluable in driving creativity.
So what are we doing about it?
Creative and tech industries are diligent in asking questions and debating the answers, with a number of reports, seminars and conferences regularly appearing on the topic of diversity. IBM, Pinterest and the BBC are all embracing programmes that fulfil the need for inclusion. Many of these have been committed to delivering an inclusive policy for some time, with the BBC appointing its first diversity officer back in 2006.
Encouragingly, the last six months has seen more of a ‘get-up-and-go’ attitude, with several initiatives underway. The Great British Diversity Experiment is one programme that made headway towards the end of last year – a scheme dreamed up by five creative directors that wanted agencies to rethink their hiring policies.
2015 also saw the launch of the Drum’s Diversity Census – a peer survey designed to identify trends and gauge levels of diversity across marketing industries. While it revealed that over half of respondents were educated to degree level, 1% had no formal qualifications. Perhaps we need to rethink how we approach less conventional routes to agency life, including apprenticeships and traineeships. At Cohaesus, we deliberately don’t ask people – whatever position they’re interviewing for – whether or not they have a degree. The industry is constantly evolving with new technologies emerging all the time. This means that what you start learning at university may be outdated by the time you graduate three years later. We prefer a hands-on approach, taking on people that are passionate and eager to learn.
More recently, Campaign and IPA came together to launch a survey that looks at gender and ethnicity. The study talks to some of advertising’s biggest agencies and calls for specific outcomes – which includes ensuring that at least 40% of senior positions are filled by women.
Beware the ‘tick-box’
This level of transparency is present across the board with Facebook, Pinterest, Intel and Apple amongst those that now release diversity reports. Encouragingly, Intel is now made up of 24.7% women, with 21% in a tech role. While we certainly have some way to go, these numbers are going in the right direction – albeit slowly.
Facebook is a prime example of an organisation that is still battling a disproportionately unequal gender divide, with 84% of its employees working on core technology being male. If it’s 717 white female employees is less than you thought, take a closer look at the number of black women with jobs at the company. Last year, out of the 4,263 staff that made up its U.S. team, just 45 were black. Of this 45, only 11 were female. And the number of black women in senior or executive management positions was zero.
Facebook isn’t alone in this. And it’s important that we don’t point the finger about who’s winning or losing in the race for diversity. Otherwise it just becomes a game of one-upmanship. Instead, it’s about recognising how far we have to go and setting targets for future progression.
A report from the Chartered Institute for IT showed that that only 17% of tech specialists working in the UK are women. At Cohaesus, the makeup of women is 27.6%, up 22.3% from last year. Our ambition is to increase this to 35% by the beginning of 2017.
Making the change
Diversity is no longer a ‘nice to have’. Nor is it a tick-box exercise that you can review every few years. Companies that hold the door open for everyone are places that people want to work; they offer the opportunity to exchange ideas, learn from each other and foster creativity. Making the decision to become a diverse business allows you to take that creativity and deliver something fantastic to clients. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we’re all trying to achieve?
By Richard Bundock