Turning Fear into Curiosity

The gentle approach to diversity talks

Felipe Moulin, Strategy Director at T&Pm explains why talking about diversity with a dose of gentleness, will help to shift fear into curiosity, increasing the dialogue and the change we want to see in our industry.

I’d like to start this article with a passage from Andy Nairn’s book, Go Luck Yourself. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

"Imagine a planet far, far away. Think of the kind of animal that might exist there. Now draw it.

According to researchers from Texas A&M University, you’ve probably sketched a creature that’s not so very different from the ones we have on our planet. Probably a cat or a dog was your main source of inspiration.

These experiments show that our imaginations are highly structured when it comes to conceptual expansion and that retrievability plays an important role. In other words, when we’re trying to come up with new ideas, we can’t help building on previous concepts - especially the ones which come most readily to mind.

But the A&M research points to another imperative: diversity is required to push the boundaries of creativity, because it widens the pool of influences and knowledge that we can draw from.

Basically, it stops us from coming up with Martian dogs."

A diverse workforce is a powerful force for creativity

Coming from a very diverse background (born and raised in Brazil, member of the LGBT+ community, lived and worked in four countries), I always knew that I brought a unique POV to the table, but this study made me tangibly understand its impact.

I’m sure that’s not alien to you (pun intended dear reader), but businesses already know that having a diverse workforce is a powerful force for creativity.

However, according to the IPA Agency Census 2023, the percentage of employees from a non-white background is estimated at 23.3%, down marginally on the 23.6% reported in 2022. In terms of seniority, individuals from a non-white background account for 11.0% of employees in Executive Management and C-suite roles, down marginally on the 11.2% reported in 2022.

Scared to get diversity wrong

If diversity is so beneficial to our industry, how have we let this happen? As a Strategist obsessed with finding interesting problems, I started to talk about it with senior industry colleagues from across a number of different agencies that come from more “traditional backgrounds”. On a rational level, they all agree that it is important to talk about diversity and love how agencies today hire people from all walks of life.

But the more we talked, the more I saw something emerging: they were feeling uncomfortable, their confidence levels dropped (“I’m just an old, white, straight person, what say do I have?”). I knew there was something to it.

This poll from Right Track Learning done with 1,090 people confirmed my hypothesis: more than 55% are scared.

Twitter poll results to the question "When it comes to talking about 'diversity and inclusion' at work are you mostly": Confident to talk openly (45%), Scared to say wrong thing (55%).
1,090 votes. final results

It made me realise: people are scared to say the wrong thing. And yes, I understand that it isn’t easy being a minority, and it is fair to get angry about it. But from my personal experience living in the UK as a gay, non-British, non-native language speaker, I think that using an aggressive tone doesn’t help to solve the problem.

Felipe Moulin

Liking the wine, not the label

Instead, I suggest using a more gentle approach. One way to do this is using the power of metaphors, like this scene from Schitt’s Creek. When talking about a difficult topic like his pansexual preferences, David, one of the main characters, uses wine metaphors. "I like the wine, not the label" is one of my favourite lines from the whole series.

Another way is by making it feel natural, like T&Pm’s latest campaign for E45. Instead of trying to blatantly point out to the audience that the characters are transgender women, the team decided to show them as women, period.

To make it clear, I’m not trying to point out that diversity shouldn’t be taken seriously. What I am saying, though, is that by talking about it with a dose of gentleness, we will manage to shift the fear into curiosity, thus enabling the change we want to see in our industry.

So next time you want to make the case for having fewer Martian dogs in your agency or company, how about being gentle about it?

For more guidance and inspiration on driving authentic inclusion, visit the IPA Talent & Diversity Hub


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors 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 26 June 2024