Race and ethnicity - putting words into action

A Future of Fairness includes a roadmap for companies 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. In this chapter, look at how the Black Lives Matter movement forced brands, businesses and individuals to take stock of their own roles in systemic racism.

Race and racism have been propelled into the spotlight since the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May 2020. An instant surge in the Black Lives Matter movement forced brands, businesses and individuals to take stock of their own roles in systemic racism.

Many have made public promises to do better and donated to charities working for change, positioning themselves as allies to the Black community. Interpublic Group Chairman Michael Roth even committed to linking racial diversity to the remuneration of leaders across his network, and Publicis Groupe pledged £40 million to the cause.

Ethnic diversity in the C-suite

Despite years of initiatives and diversity panels, Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees still make up only 4.7% of the C-suite – down from 5.5% the previous year – and 13.7% of overall staff – down from 13.8%.

Karen Blackett and I joke that we should start our own Black, Asian and minority ethnic version of WACL, and hold events in a big empty room with the same six people standing up and making speeches to each other.

Trevor Robinson, Founder, Quiet Storm

Blackett has probably done more for Black, Asian and minority ethnic representation than anyone in the industry, and it’s no coincidence that MediaCom, where she has worked for 20 years, has a genuinely diverse workforce. But the diversity didn’t magically happen just because Blackett has a high profile – it’s the result of hard work and sustained investment across the agency over many years.

Non-Black, Asian and minority ethnic leaders must take responsibility for diversity too. Dino Myers-Lamptey, founder of The Barber Shop, adds, "To some degree it’s like turkeys voting for Christmas. There’s a survival instinct kicking in. If you are sitting on an all-white male board, who wants to be the one to free up room?" He challenges more agencies to sign up to the government’s Race at Work charter, which includes a pledge to track and publish data on-Black, Asian and minority ethnic workforces, including levels of seniority.

Sarah Jenkins, Managing Director of Saatchi & Saatchi, is more upbeat. She says, "We’ve got some incredibly diverse talent breaking through very visibly. If you have the Reading-born daughter of a Barbadian bus driver in front of you, you are no longer going to question whether they’d be all right with clients, because you’d see a mini Karen Blackett. We’ve got the proof points."

Robinson hasn’t encountered overt racism, but he does sometimes experience it more subtly through body language or facial expressions. "Only rarely do people look like they want to jump out of the window at the sight of me," he jokes.

While representative leadership can only do so much, Engine CEO Ete Davies insists that there can be no real change without it. He says, "If you have – literally – got skin in the game, you are going to have a more personal investment in creating a sustainable environment of inclusion."

Davies goes further, saying that we need to question our whole perception of diversity. "We have to get used to the fact that diversity is an ever-evolving spectrum; an ongoing shift that we must keep responding to and embracing," he says. "I have a problem with initiatives that set goals and create a mythical finish line."

Diversity of recruitment

RAPP has accomplished change, with 25% Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees at junior level, by partnering with external organisations. Its UK Group Head of Talent, Ursula Marchese, says, "It’s not about meeting a target or putting up a poster to declare our values. It’s about having different perspectives around the table, bringing excitement and buzz to the organisation, and creating an inclusive culture where everyone feels like they’ve found a home."

BJL Group, which also has 25% Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees at junior level, takes a similar approach. CEO Nicky Unsworth says, "It’s partly because we don’t rely on our own networks. Most people don’t come to our agency through contacts and they are not clients’ friends’ kids. We work to get the best talent in and we thrive on a mix of people."

Recruitment takes work, as Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy Group UK, acknowledges. He says, "Advertising is an industry where good talented people fail, and useless people succeed. Not that it’s entirely without meritocracy, but we shouldn’t be surprised if the child of a first-generation immigrant looks on advertising as a flaky business."

Actively reaching out to candidates from different backgrounds can help, and so can social media. Sutherland says, "It’s where a lot of people approach me, and I’d say a majority are from a minority ethnic group. I’m assiduous about responding to them, on the grounds that I had no contacts when I started in the industry, so I’m disproportionately sympathetic to someone who has no contacts themselves."

Diversity isn’t always comfortable, and real change will inevitably involve difficult conversations. Davies adds, "My philosophy is to offer people a safe space, without judgement, to talk about their concerns. That means engaging, and really hearing their fears, finding the roots of their scepticism, and challenging them. It also means speaking to them about the benefits of a more diverse future and appealing to their ambition by helping them to see their own role in shaping it."

Always, at the heart of it all, is the bottom line and the work.

The more inclusive our businesses, the more of a talent magnet we’ll become, and the more we elevate the quality overall. The world is becoming more diverse and if we don’t keep up, we can’t serve our existing clients or win new ones.

Ete Davies, CEO, Engine

Robinson concludes, "We could be accessing a labyrinth of warmth and humour. Life should be about opening our eyes to different ways of thinking, making contact with different people, the ways they express themselves and the experiences they are going through. We should be anchoring on the fact that diversity is more energising – then we’d all be giggling at the ads instead of fast-forwarding through them."

Continue reading A Future of Fairness

The opinions expressed here are those of the contributors and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 05 October 2021