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GBDE report reveals how to unlock the benefits of diverse teams

The Great British Diversity Experiment urges agency bosses to shake-up the creative process, retrain leaders and access new tribes of talent.


Agency heads are being urged to reassess the traditional role of the Creative Director and the ‘ideas by speed and cultural consensus’ ethos prevalent in the UK’s creative industries. Failing to take a fresh look at leadership and current team structures and processes is the biggest barrier to building successful, rewarding company cultures and to offering the best creative solutions to clients, according to a new report by Flamingo and Tapestry on behalf of The Great British Diversity Experiment (TGBDE).

In a first-of-its-kind experiment that set out to prove why and how diversity leads to better experiences and solutions, 120 individuals from diverse backgrounds were recruited and broken into teams, each with an industry mentor, and were given one month to respond to a brief set by advertising agency and TGBDE lead creative partner, BBH, exploring how to reduce consumer food waste across Britain.

The teams that fared best were those where individuals felt empowered to be their authentic self rather than conforming to type and where ideas won by democracy over cultural consensus. More importantly, the process found that cultivating an environment where diversity can thrive is key. The following findings outline practical, relevant and tangible steps that agency leaders can take to unlock the benefits of truly diverse teams:

- Change your creative process: embrace messiness and go beyond the status-quo decision making mechanisms. Embracing potentially more complicated, more time-consuming ways to facilitate idea generation and creating strong structures and boundaries for the ideation process are fundamental steps to reaping the rewards of truly diverse teams.

The experiment proved that while diversity makes it easier to come up with new angles and different answers to age-old commercial questions, a diverse team challenges ideas more, leading to increased debate and a longer – and more heated - process of deciding which idea is best. Indeed, while 60% and 54% of GBDE participants respectively thought that coming up with, and discussing ideas went well in their diverse teams, only 20% could say the same

about agreeing the approach. The experiment showed that solutions don’t come easy in truly diverse teams, but with an increased investment of energy and time, the output will not only be better, but will also be the result of genuine consensus based on a democratic, meritocratic decision-making process.

- Retrain leaders: start by reassessing traditional roles. Question whether the archetypal role of the all-encompassing Creative Director is still fit for purpose. The experiment pointed less to a Don Draper-esque style of leadership and more to the skills of empathetic, careful facilitators, capable of listening and creating space for a team to grow and flourish with guidance.

80% of experiment participants believed their mentors played a significant role in the teams. The best leaders practiced ‘clear enablement’; empowering teams and giving them space, but stepping in with the right prompts or questions. In short, the most enlightened leaders allowed and facilitated debate and welcomed messiness with open arms. The best leaders didn’t dominate or override ideas based on their own judgement and experience. The experiment also pointed to the need for investment in mentoring diverse talents and an understanding that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work.

- Implement the ‘Rooney Rule’: acknowledge that bringing in diverse talent is not a ‘CSR thing’ but is critical to business success. Demand that every new role has a diverse short list. Look harder, further and accept that often a round peg in a square hole is a good thing. The experiment showed that true diversity serves creativity by allowing people to be themselves and to draw on their experiences without being judged. This requires a move beyond arbitrary tokenism to true pluralism.

- Make your attitudes as accessible as your buildings: 14% of the UK identify as having a physical disability yet how many people in your company are from this community? Even worse how often have you talked about how you can encourage more people with a disability into your company? This is an issue that isn't receiving the attention it deserves and our industry is falling behind because of it. Let's start the debate and inspire change.

- Build and open network and access new tribes: The experiment highlighted the alchemy that results from a mixture of personal experiences, reference points and cultural knowledge. This all starts with recruitment. If you hire new people, you find new people, you learn from new people. Experiment participants have reported building brand new networks that are opening new doors as well as ways of thinking.

Nadya Powell, MD of Sunshine and one of the founders of the Great British Diversity Experiment said: “We all know diversity works and this report proves it. The problem is, it’s not happening. The work society consumes through advertising and marketing is currently, on the whole, being decided by a group of white, middle class men. We need the people responsible for campaigns to reflect the society they are made for.

“The Great British Diversity Experiment set out to bring to life how diversity leads to brilliant, differentiating creative thinking and to show the on-the-ground reasons why a diverse workplace is a better workplace. In doing so, we’ve unearthed some of the current barriers to accessing the benefits of diversity and most importantly, how to overcome them.

“This experiment was conceived of by the industry, for the industry. The participants, mentors, sponsors, founders, partners are all from the industry and for many of them, we hope the experience of being part of this means they will take action.”

Tom Knox, IPA President: “Ensuring that your agency is made up of diverse teams is a no-brainer for agency leaders, but it’s also the right thing to do if we want our great industry to fully play its part in creating the kind of meritocratic, open society that we all aspire to.”

The Great British Diversity Experiment was born from a frustration at the lack of diversity in the worlds of creative marketing, media and technology and set out to prove that diversity leads to better experiences, solutions and ultimately, a better world in which to live.

Research partners, Flamingo and Tapestry observed and documented the creative process and the experiment participants’ experiences.

The full report can be accessed here:

Other partners include lead media agency, MediaCom, lead creative partner, BBH; Google, Ogilvy, Digital Futures, Formation London, VML, DigitasLBi. Supporters include Sunshine, IPA, BIMA, Advertising Association, MAA, Creative Social, Innovation Social, LFA, The Ideas Foundation, She Says, SupaAcademy, Black Cultural Archives and Token Man. Without the collaborative efforts of all involved, this experiment would not have been possible.

About The Great British Diversity Experiment

Founded by Nadya Powell (MD, Sunshine), Daniele Fiandaca (Co-Founder, Creative Social), Alex Goat (MD, Livity), Jonathan Akwue (CEO, Lost Boys), Laura Jordan-Bambach (Creative Partner, Mr President), and managed by Tolu Farinto (CEO, LFA UK), The Great British Diversity Experiment seeks to prove that diversity leads to better solutions, experiences, and, therefore, a better world.

The team behind The Great British Diversity Experiment have come together through a common interest in making the industry better through diversity. In their spare time they set-up SheSays, Token Man, Millennial Mentoring, are Chair of The Ideas Foundation and Trustee of The Black Cultural Archives.

For more information, visit:

Last updated 16/06/2016

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