Our roadmap towards a fairer future

A guideline for agencies to follow no matter where they are on their diversity and inclusion journey.

Our new report, A Future of Fairness, aims to give brands and agencies a series of tangible actions to consider on diversity and inclusion. There is no quick win, neither do we yet have the perfect case study for who is doing it exactly right, but an honest and firm attempt at addressing each of the five components of this roadmap is guaranteed to set you well on your way.


    1. Creating an inclusive culture

    Re-establishing or creating your own unique story: Authentic and inspiring stories of individuals from within the company can play a major role in establishing why an organisation is committed to making progress.

    Think about whether your organisation has current employees who are particularly vocal or active on certain equality issues which has led to positive organisational change in anyway.

    Looking for those personal stories from within the organisation, whether it is the founders or present day employees, is a great way of creating a new legacy of diversity and inclusion.

    Checking in

    Retaining top and diverse talent is a huge challenge. All the points above and below will help. However, there is no substitute for checking in consistently and regularly.

    Stay interviews

    Stay interviews (as opposed to just exit interviews) are getting very popular and with good reason as it makes sense to invest time and effort into investigating how staff are currently feeling and doing, as opposed to when they have already resigned. The very name has a positive connotation – the message is "We value you and we would like you to stay with us".


    In a post COVID-19 world, there is very little left to say about the benefits of flexible working. The way we work has undoubtedly changed and, in order to survive in the current climate and beyond, flexibility is key – for productivity, performance and employee well-being.


    Mentoring is quite well understood in adland and most agencies actively encourage their employees to seek mentors to support them through their career development.

    For minority ethnic groups, mentoring becomes even more essential due to lack of role models. Reverse mentoring is a great way of introducing leaders to diverse ways of thinking. Reverse mentoring allows both the mentor and the mentee to learn from each other’s experiences, skills and knowledge. This is beneficial for the more experienced of the two individuals because they are gaining an honest and fresh point of view, which they might not have otherwise.


    Sponsorships are an (almost) foolproof way of nurturing future stars. Often confused with mentoring, it is important to be clear on the difference. A sponsor is a senior-level staff member invested in a protégé’s career success.

    Socialising and expectations of behaviour

    Allowing people to have the freedom of choice around where they would like to meet socially, and to ensure that the pub or the bar after work are not the only options, is key to encouraging attendance and happy involvement. Breakfast or brunch sessions or afternoon tea, a sports day, booking an exhibition etc. are a great way of appealing to a wider number of individuals, no matter what their background.

    Food, drink, music, reception areas, communal spaces and toilets all contribute to the culture and vibe of the office, so each must be reviewed and updated frequently.

    2. Tracking progress

    Setting targets

    We are quite comfortable setting targets for areas where we really want to see action and results – whether it’s profit or performance. Why should diversity and inclusion be any different? Setting targets focuses the mind, it sends out a clear message and it can be a short term strategy to help level the playing field and solve the current problem (and then you can do away with it when it’s not required anymore).

    Measuring and monitoring diversity data

    Any diversity and inclusion conversation must start with the data. The numbers are the first thing to look at, and will be the last to change. Without any baseline data, there is nothing to measure against.

    Agencies should periodically collect detailed diversity data across all protected characteristics (over and above what they do for the IPA Census) as well as qualitative data from employees to get a sense of where they need to pay attention. Have a look at the Lloyds Data Collection Toolkit for detailed inspiration and support on everything from why data collection is important, when you should do it, what data to collect and how to communicate it.

    Putting policies in place and making them public

    A Diversity and Inclusion policy is crucial. You may want to have one for internal purposes and one for external purposes; or you may just have one which incorporates both your values and culture within the organisation and with regard to your work. A useful resource is the ACAS website where you can find free policy templates.

    A policy audit is a good idea. You may also want to check whether your anti-harassment and bullying policy, disciplinary and grievance procedure policy, transitioning policy, and other diversity and inclusion policies are sufficient and appropriate.

    3. Leadership responsibilities

    Monitoring gender and ethnicity pay gaps

    Since 2017, any organisation that has 250 or more employees has had to publish and report specific figures about their gender pay gap.

    Financial inequality is unquestionably one of the root causes of gender inequality, globally. The ethnicity pay gap is one to begin collecting data on as we put into action our pledge to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

    If you are already monitoring these gaps, perhaps go a step further and compare and contrast the salaries of individuals from different minority groups who took on similar roles at the same level to start off with. For instance, a white British male graduate and an Asian female graduate both start off at the same pay scale in similar roles – a year or two down the line, how have they fared? Has one been promoted or given a pay rise while the other has not progressed? You may be surprised at what you find if you take time out to look carefully.

    Your support internally and externally

    Responding with speed and sincerity to social movements and taking on the role of an ally is key. When the Black Lives Matter movement became prominent in the UK, mainly the week after it did in the US, many industry leaders were startled by the reaction and anger of their employees and also the public in general. Perhaps they had missed a beat somewhere as they had not anticipated such a reaction. No matter how uncomfortable, most leaders chose to speak openly to their employees and provide safe spaces for uncomfortable truths. Many gave staff a day off to educate themselves or digest the global awakening. One thing was clear – a leader is expected to be an ally.


    Leaders must get used to repeating their commitment to diversity and inclusion to their employees and clients time and again – at company meetings, at reviews, at external events. Only then will it filter through the organisation and become part of its system. Everyone in the organisation should be able to deliver and articulate the company’s stand on diversity and inclusion.


    As we do with other business objectives for our company, where possible, we should tie our diversity goals to the compensation of our senior leadership. This may be an aggressive move but it will bring in results quicker. The alternative is to ensure each member of the senior management team is up to speed on the diversity and inclusion agenda and delivers it through his or her own teams and work.

    Recruitment and hiring practices

    Injecting diversity through entry-level talent pipelines is a quick win and within the gift of mid-level managers. Partnering with schools and diverse organisations such as Brixton Finishing School, Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, The Dots, Stemnet, Rare or Speakers for Schools (and many more) is a great way to seek out diverse young talent. You may want to get involved with the IPA Advertising Unlocked programme, which is a nationwide open day, usually in September each year, where agencies open their doors to a school in their local catchment area; the idea being to build a longterm sustainable relationship between the two.

    Apprenticeships can attract and allow you to nurture diverse talent. An apprentice is someone who is a fulltime member of staff, and is also studying towards an industry-recognised apprenticeship qualification.

    Inclusive board

    If you do not have people within the business that you can invite to your board in order to make it more inclusive then bringing in someone from the outside as a Chair, Co-Chair, Exec or Honorary member may be a good idea.

    The Financial Times published its second annual list of Diversity Leaders at the end 2020 after a successful first edition in 2019. Certainly a place to look out for top diverse talent.

    WACL also have a list of top female talent that you may like to consider.

    Boardroom expansion to accommodate diversity is going to be key. A recent example is the British Fashion Council inviting June Sarpong as a Non-Exec Director to its Executive Board to help champion diversity and inclusion being at the heart of the BFC’s decisionmaking processes.

    Senior-level recruitment

    Hiring at a more senior level is more challenging and it’s an area our industry desperately needs to make progress on, fast. This may be achieved through a combination of actively promoting high-potential, diverse, mid-level managers on to more senior-level roles through acceleration programmes and insisting on diverse shortlists from recruitment agencies when making senior hires.

    Get involved with industry-wide initiatives

    Keeping on top of the many new programmes to drive industry change may be tricky, but it’s important to keep on top of the news and offer support. In June 2020, Creative Equals helped to pull together an open letter with more than 500 signatories that called on the industry to act against racism and inequality. Creative Equals is running an accountability survey to understand where the sector is and its challenges in moving forward.

    Campaign’s BLM Adland Audit, which went live in September 2020, is highlighting accountability and tracking the progress agencies are making.

    Partnering to best effect

    We are lucky to have many incredible organisations supporting our sector in a number of different ways. There is a vibrant, highly active community within adland in the UK that is working with agencies. Some of the ones we really like and trust are listed here:

    Training, Data Measuring and Inspiration

    • Creative Equals
    • The Hobbs Consultancy
    • The Other Box
    • The Valuable 500
    • Kantar Inclusion Index
    • Utopia

    Well Being, Mental Health and Neurodiversity Autismo

    • NABS
    • Working Families
    • Mind
    • The Future is ND
    • Genius Within


    • Thisability
    • Think Designable
    • Exceptional Individuals

    On Screen

    • Brand Advance
    • The Female Quotient (US)
    • The Unmistakables
    • Versiti
    • Geena Davis Institute
    • Unstereotype Alliance
    • Channel 4 Diversity in Advertising Award
    • Looks Like Me
    • The Eye
    • Diversity in Advertising Awards Transport for London (TfL) in partnership with Mayor of London

    Entry Level Talent and Social Mobility

    • Advertising Unlocked
    • Speakers for Schools
    • Livity
    • The Ladder
    • Brixton Finishing School
    • Uptree
    • The Ideas Foundation
    • Social Mobility Foundation
    • Media for All
    • Creative Mentor Network
    • Juice Academy Manchester


    • Bloom
    • Creative Equals
    • IPA Stepping into the Spotlight
    • She Says
    • Good Girls Eat Dinner
    • WACL
    • You Make It
    • #timeTo
    • IfWeRanTheWorld
    • Token Man


    • Race for Equality
    • BAME 2020
    • Media for All
    • We are Stripes
    • Digify
    • POCC
    • Changing Faces


    • Outvertising
    • Stonewall
    • Intercom Trust
    • Intermedia UK


    • The Commonland
    • Uninvisability

    Regulation, Policy, Best Practice and Research

    • ASA
    • Clearcast
    • CAP
    • BCAP
    • Credos
    • AA
    • ISBA

    4. The work we produce

    Authentic creative briefs

    Portraying diversity for a modern-day audience that is demanding a more representative reflection of British society is one of our industry’s greatest opportunities. Diversity must be considered at the very early creative stages when responding to a client brief. This may be achieved by diverse teams and, in particular, by including creatives that represent the spectrum of diversity. Also, they will be better equipped to handle difficult situations with clients, as compared to a homogenous team.

    It is a good idea to keep an eye on what other sectors apart from Advertising are doing in this area, be it fashion, technology, music or TV and film.

    A good place to start is a recent report prepared by the Creative Industries Council on the state of diversity in the creative industries – Diversity & Inclusion Report 2019/20.

    Production and casting challenges

    IPA members will be aware of the importance of equal opportunities in the recruitment and retention of their staff.

    It should not, however, be forgotten in the context of the processes used when creating advertising campaigns.

    The IPA Employment and Production Policy guidance on 'Production and Equalities Issues,' considers the equal opportunities issues that agencies should be aware of during any production process.

    Havas London has recently launched an antidiscrimination initiative internally backed by Creative Equals and open to the industry. Read more about the Press Pause initiative at creativeequals.org/press-pause

    The diversity of our productions

    As of early 2021, a new working party is being formed for IPA member agencies, represented by Sue Unerman, Chief Transformation Officer MediaCom, alongside clients, AA, IPA, ISBA, Clearcast, Pearl & Dean and others, to work on a project in 2021 to collect an accurate picture of what the diversity makeup of our sector, is behind the camera and in front of it.

    This work has been inspired by the Project Diamond, a single online reporting system supported by all major TV broadcasters to measure the diversity of everyone on TV and everyone who makes TV.

    Revisit the gender stereotyping rule and guidance

    Make sure that all your advertising is compliant with the gender stereotyping rule which is included in the CAP and BCAP codes and applies to advertising in any medium. The rule states that [Advertisements] must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence and is enforceable by the ASA. Revisit the CAP advertising guidance on depicting gender stereotypes to get to grips with how this rule is likely to be interpreted by the ASA. Reach out to the IPA legal service ([email protected]) for a check of your scripts and creative work to get on top of any potential issues at an early stage in the creative process.

    The Unstereotype Metric

    The Unstereotype Metric (UM) has been designed by the Unstereotype Alliance with Kantar to help create and track advertising content that is free of gender stereotypes, and to push for progressive portrayals of all people. It is a single measure question to be added in any research - pre-test or post-test – which discriminates progressive versus regressive content.

    The evaluation is on female and male characters and is easy to connect to other advertising outcomes in research like purchase intention, brand opinion, and ad likeability. It is globally validated and efficient for both developed and developing markets. The tool is free for members and non-members of the Unstereotype Alliance to use and can be implemented globally.

    Collaborate with clients

    Diversity and inclusion is a topic area that genuinely lends itself to cross-industry and client-agency collaboration without any conflict of interest. Identifying a client who has a real passion for diversity and inclusion and working on an initiative together with them would not only be beneficial to them but also strengthen your relationship and reputation.

    5. Training

    IPA Diversity and Inclusion Essentials Certificate

    This new IPA qualification, in partnership with The Hobbs Consultancy, has been carefully designed to ensure everyone in the industry has access to the information they need to contribute to a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

    What are the benefits?

    • Learn about the seven diversity metrics in more depth; Racial and ethnic diversity, Gender diversity, Neurodiversity, Disability, Masculinity in the workplace, the Multi-generational workplace and LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace
    • Understand the key barriers facing different groups of people in the workplace
    • Gain a better understanding of your own biases, so you can begin to make changes to your own behaviour if and when appropriate
    • Understand fully why each strand of diversity and inclusion is important to our industry
    • Receive clear actionable tips and guidelines to help facilitate change in your organisation
    • Test your knowledge with a quiz at the end of each module
    • Access further resources to continue your personal learning journey

    The seven module online programme will help all staff, at every level, gain a deeper understanding of the challenges we need to overcome and the behaviours we need to change to become a more diverse and inclusive industry. Approximately 10 hours of online learning with one MIPA star award to all those that pass each module.

    We have plans to add more to the qualification in phase two covering areas such as social mobility, For more information, contact [email protected]

    'A Future of Fairness' seeks to hold a mirror to the industry’s progress, celebrate those who have pioneered change and offer up-to-date guidance on how agencies can recruit, retain and motivate top talent.

    Continue reading A Future of Fairness
    Last updated 01 May 2024