Hiring a diverse talent base

The business case for recruiting underrepresented talent and how to do it.

Why diversity, equality and inclusion recruitment policies should be pursued, how to reach and recruit talent, and an extensive link list.

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Recent research conducted by VCCP and reported in Campaign found that adland was inaccessible to young, diverse talent. Their Chief Strategy Officer Michael Lee had some good advice about how to fix this:

  1. Reach out to schools beyond London.
  2. Be careful when talking about roles – to most people account men means accountancy for example.
  3. Treat interviews more like chats, don’t set traps.

Diversity, Equality and Inclusion recruitment policies should be pursued for six main reasons

  1. It is morally right to hire based on talent potential and not on ethnicity, social background, disability, gender, sexuality, neuro normal, what school or university you went to.
  2. It has well-known business benefits. Diversity improves financial performance. McKinsey’s latest research (Diversity Wins: How inclusion matters, May 2020) finds that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns way above their national industry medians.
  3. Greater diversity of thought comes from diversity of people – vital in the creative industries in particular. This diversity should include age because "when an old man dies a library burns down". In an HBR 2017 study of cognitive diversity – more diverse performed better. 
  4. The Empathy Delusion has shown how little we represent the mainstream, which makes communication harder. More advantaged groups make up 92% of jobs in the creative industries (DCMS 2016). Andrew Tenzer, author of The Empathy Delusion research, says: "In advertising, the white middle classes dominate the culture; they share common ethical and cultural settings and, as far as they are concerned, the whole country thinks (or should think) the same way they do. Ultimately, advertising is missing experience outside of its bubble. The industry is Emma Thompson on a first-class flight to an Extinction Rebellion lecture on carbon neutrality, but half of consumers think more like Piers Morgan.”
  5. With the advent of AI and automation, the skills of neurodivergent people are going to be even more important in the future. As early as five to ten years ago processes to recruit ‘differently able’ people were running at Microsoft, SAP, IBM, Dell and many others. Neurodivergence evolved for a reason, for example because we needed people who were organised and had great attention to detail and others who were full of energy.
  6. The CIPD’s Resource and Talent Planning Survey finds that only a quarter of UK organisations have recruited a more diverse workforce in the last year despite an agreed talent shortage due to challenges such as Brexit, ‘The Great Resignation’, early retirement. They suggest we all adopt more long-term initiatives and not just ‘flash in the pans’.

You can’t readily create advertising for a multicultural society unless you are a multicultural agency. You can’t just talk about diversity; you have to make it part of your experience.

Nigel Vaz, former IPA President

As Xavier Rees, CEO Havas London notes: “You can’t just pledge that things will be different in four years’ time, forget about it for three years, and then quickly make some changes. You’ve got to start now, because it takes time to have an impact. Unless your strategies change the make-up of your agency, they don’t really count for anything.”

 It is vital to recruit from a wider pool at entry level otherwise in ten years' time we’ll have the same problems with e.g. women in C suite, black CEOs etc that we do now. 

Ways to reach and recruit talented people from every group


    • Advertising Unlocked – the IPA arranges for schools and colleges to visit your agency, thus providing a pool of long-term potentials.
    • Alternative ways to connect with schools are organisations like Speakers for Schools or approaching the local education authority and asking them to pair you as mentors to the school in their area with the biggest number of kids in the sin bin.
    • If you want to go younger than final year or sixth form volunteer to help The Ideas Foundation founded by ad legend Robin Wright - this article says so much about its aspirations and achievements.
    • Uptree are another outreach partner who can help you "connect with a diverse audience of engaged young people. Focus your recruitment outreach towards our UK-wide network of motivated, enthusiastic students, many from low-income or BAME backgrounds. We work directly with schools, which means we can target specific groups more effectively." 32% of the students on their books have free school meals. They seem to run events and lectures so that employers can get themselves in front of (mainly virtual) students – upcoming were ones from Publicis Media Group, J.P. Morgan and Google. There is a case study of how Uptree helped Ogilvy connect with diverse groups.
    • For a big outreach from as early as Key Stage 3, The Talent Foundry "are an independent education charity offering a range of fully funded opportunities to schools and colleges across the United Kingdom". They have had 60,000 students participate in the last decade. "Our mission is to increase social mobility by helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds discover what they are amazing at, develop valuable new employment skills and take that first step into the world of work." Here is one major agency who works with them. Seems to be a good stepping stone into being offered an apprenticeship.  Which works for social mobility in that there is a living wage salary and qualification.
    • The Ada charity, national college of digital skills, named after the pioneering Ada Lovelace, one of the first ‘programmers’ "can help you find and recruit apprentices who will benefit your organisation. Our Sixth Form serves as a natural pipeline of diverse, talented candidates who are passionate about tech and excited about apprenticeships  plus we have a large pool of additional candidates we find through our extensive outreach programmes. We can help you pick the candidate who is right for you through helping you design your application and assessment process, advertising your opportunities to our list of candidates, and helping sift and shortlist applicants. We work with you to ensure both you and the apprentice get the right level of support throughout programme from recruitment to graduation.’ They offer Data Analytics apprenticeship (level 4) along with software apprenticeships, and have a London and Manchester base."
    • The  Comino Foundation works in the North West, and we know of at least one agency that partners with them.
      It has three aims:
      • Social opportunity – which to the Foundation means finding approaches/initiatives which help young people, whatever their background, to live fulfilling and productive lives in whatever ways have meaning and value for them.
      • Personal capabilities – developing approaches which enhance young people’s personal capacity to cope with the demands of growing up and with adult life.
      • Improving practical capability – especially that which relates to designing and making, to innovation and to manufacturing.’  It was founded by an engineer, hence the emphasis on practical application, problem solving.

    Tech solutions

    • Start your own virtual or live incubator such as these agency taster programmes
    • Or you could advertise on the IPA jobs board - you can't apply a filter but on the other hand it is free! (And lots of entry talent ads do appear there especially for digital...). 
    • You can also advertise for apprentices on the Government website. They claim they have 900,000 applicants registered. Most training providers would advise you to do so.
    • Of course, there is always LinkedIn recruitment and this is still the main way many agencies look for professionals of all ages.  You can do several things to increase applicants' diversity, e.g. "you can spotlight company DEI leaders under the 'Life' tab and drive meaningful engagement by promoting DEI content or hiring events using Campaign Media​."  They can help you by hiding photographs, names, genders, and age to help unconscious bias.
    • The Dots is a professional network for all types of creative roles. You can post jobs, showcase yourself, apply for jobs, get advice, join projects. They use the platform to spotlight underrepresented groups. The founder Pip Jamieson is "famously dyslexic". Posting an intern or freelance job is free. Many agencies post roles – examples up now include Production Assistant (junior), Digital producer (mid-level) and Strategy Director (senior).
    • Digital Futures is providing technical resource into organisations whilst simultaneously supporting D&I objectives as we focus on training engineers from diverse backgrounds, be that gender, ethnicity, low social mobility, or those who are neurodiverse. The Academy has three pathways – software engineering, data (analytics, science, engineering) and cloud engineering – all of which is completely free, including the industry-recognised certification they achieve at the end of the 12-week training period. They can claim benefits during this time to ensure they are financially stable and develop both their technical and professional skills ensuring that when they join a client partner upon graduation, they contribute to business objectives immediately. Current clients working with Digital Futures include major media owners, but no agencies as yet that we know of. Contact [email protected].
    • Vizzy is a new, and free, software tool that’s here to challenge the restricting, limited and outdated CV. A hiring and a team connection solution, Vizzy champions personality, culture, and potential, giving people better opportunities to express themselves without total dependence on education and work experience – regular barriers to identifying talent. Vizzy helps businesses lean into diversity, equality, and inclusion by providing better insights, better connections, and better understanding into who their people and candidates are. Leaders can see talent like never before all-in-one place, giving them the opportunity to build diverse, culturally rich teams.’ They recently worked with Burberry to hire a more diverse group and it is fair to say that the profiles are way more interesting and exciting than a basic CV, and give much more airtime to interests and character, and strengths.


    • Work with organisation such as Brixton Finishing School. Very well respected as Ally Owens has a brilliant pipeline into underrepresented groups, she will train them up and then 'sell' them to her supporter agencies. But please note again - they are therefore nearly always not suitable to be accepted onto some apprenticeships because their knowledge/skills/behaviours may already be too advanced and Government won't let levy money go to train them in these scenarios.   
    • If you are keen to reach beyond the classic middle-class nature of the industry you could partner with/pay Commercial Break - "We're a transformation agency focused on increasing working-class representation in the creative and marketing industries.”  They are very hot on making sure that acquisition isn’t the end – that you retain the person you’ve tried so hard to find. 
    • But there are other places to find underrepresented groups, such as The Princes Trust and we have had good feedback on partnering with them.
    • The IPA Fairness Hub lists some people to possibly partner with.  Possibly worth a look are The Social Mobility Foundation, or Creative Mentor Network.
    •  Creative Equals is another route worth consulting. The Creative Equals Creative Comeback 10-day programme is free to attend and is open to up to 30 women, non-binary and gender non-conforming people, from across the UK (not just London) who've previously worked as a creative (creative strategist, art director, copywriter, editor, content creator or designer or very similar role) in the advertising, marketing and design industry, and provides bridges back into employment.  (They now run this in different countries but hope to be back in the UK for 2024.)  They have also just run a very successful boot camp/workshops for Disabled Creatives. While those who support the programme obviously have a head start to pick they welcome interest from anyone.
    • The ERIC app may be a good place to put a profile so that Gen Zs can learn about you and maybe approach you direct. Here is their excellent talk at the IPA Training Forum on how to recruit Gen Z. The founders have a community reach of 150,000 16-25s through their many events and festivals. The IPA have a profile up which includes case studies from young people who have joined the industry. You can sign up with them for your own agency, the content of which you can edit and adapt. Another way you might want to be able to reach those interested in a career in advertising would be to get your employees to agree to join their mentoring push.  For more about the ERIC app please contact co-founder Mae Yip.
    • WYK Digital – It’s what you know. Free bootcamp and mentors. "Our results have shown, that with the right support, motivation and commitment - a career in digital marketing is available to anyone regardless of education or background." They are particularly keen on ethnic, social and neurodiversity.  "We’re looking for ambitious young people who have a willingness to learn & commit to the opportunity we’re offering. 80% of our graduates land roles in digital marketing jobs within three months of leaving the programme. Our free programme has a focus on the two most popular digital marketing channels used by businesses; Google Ads and Facebook Ads. Our expert team will show you how to design, build and execute campaigns with these platforms. On top of these two areas, you will also gain invaluable knowledge around analytics and the wider industry and what it takes to make it in digital. You will also spend time working in actual functioning digital agencies, media companies and London Co-work spaces."
    • The Ready Initiative is a wonderful scheme, supported by agencies, to help companies to hire homeless young people, who have strengths for example of lateral thinking and resilience.


    • The Future is ND: "We’re a neurodiverse network united by a common goal – to champion and empower neurodiversity in the creative and tech industries. By raising our voices together, and owning our narratives, we aim to celebrate our achievements, share our challenges, and lead the way in this new frontier of diversity. We do this through a program of evening events and advocacy work within organisations. All our work aims to empower NDs with the inspiration, insights, and tools they need to turn up as themselves and thrive, as well as educate and inform businesses on how to support them best." 
    • A couple of agencies have taken young people via Ambitious for Autism’s work experience push (Employ Autism). “Employers will need to complete a one-day course provided by us before the start of the placement. You will be required to review your current internal recruitment and selection processes. This includes developing autism-friendly resources and making any adjustments to accommodate candidates at interviews and to complete the work placement. Placements can last from four weeks to six months, depending on the employer. During the work placement, each young person will need to have support from a line manager and a mentor, who we will train and support.”
    • Exceptional Individuals provide consulting, recruitment and employment support to employers and individuals with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism.  They offer training (e.g. Managing Neurodivergent People) and recruitment services.  They claim to have hundreds of talented neurodiverse people on their books.
    • NDSA (Neurodiverse Self Advocacy) is run by autistic adults for autistic adults and aims – via outside companies mentoring – to help autistic people into employment.  77% of autistic adults are unemployed.  They can also help employers understand and adapt to autistic employees and reap the benefits of this neurodiversity in the workforce.
    • Autistica ‘We want to help companies to get better at recruiting, retaining and supporting autistic and neurodivergent staff. Register today to access our Employers Guide to Neurodiversity and you will get ongoing updates on new resources, tools and events. We have plans to launch a Neurodiversity Employers Index - a gold-standard framework and recommendations to being a neuroinclusive organisation. And will be releasing more evidence-based resources over the coming months.’

    Specific Groups - Diversity

    • A handful of agencies have already signed up to take interns next summer off the #10000 Black Interns project. There is a waiting list but worth registering and maybe going to one of their regular information sessions.   
    • Slightly similar, but much smaller, and only relevant within selected west of England areas is The Strive Internship.  
    • Black Young Professionals have a jobs board to post on, but also offer all sorts of recruitment services. You can also give talks or mentor some of the people on their books – 50,000 they claim.  And they can train to retain with workshops like "The Black Experience".
    • Lollipop mentoring have a job page which is read by young black women in marketing and advertising – the fee for this depends on various factors so please contact them to discuss. Here is an article in Campaign about Lollipop.
    • Rare Recruitment say they are leaders in graduate diversity recruitment. They certainly have a huge and impressive client list – M&S, National Audit Office, WPP, GSK, Credit Suisse etc. They do their own research reports e.g. Unconscious Bias in Recruiting, and arrange for development of candidates in various ways.  One of their case studies is a Senior Media Planning Director at Essence.  They have a host of awards, one from the CIPD.
    • Another well-known provider of creative talent with a diverse policy is the D&AD New Blood. "Real briefs, set by real clients, judged by the industry's top creatives. New Blood Awards is open to advertising, design, digital and marketing students, recent graduates and emerging creatives worldwide. It's your opportunity to land a job in the creative industry by getting a head start while you're still at university or gaining the exposure you need to kick start your creative career." A good place to recruit from if you get involved. They do have a policy on free entry for those who are e.g. unemployed or receiving benefits/hardship & means-tested grants. We don’t know the profile of those who enter and they may be mostly graduates of well-known creative post-grads such as The School of Communications Arts. The SCA does offer a few scholarships.
    • However, completely free but time-consuming is D&AD Shift, months of night classes which result in a celebration attended by the industry looking for people to put on paid placements. More likely to be diverse as only open to those without degrees.
    • Social Fixt was founded in 2017 by Mercedes Benson to help the entire creative industries connect with young Black talent  - “When the workforce matches the populace, ideas become limitless.” Their Jobs Board reaches 20,000 they claim.
    • The Other Box is ‘an award-winning media company, educating on bias, diversity, equity and inclusion.’  But they also plan to launch a jobs board in Spring 2023:  ‘a platform for companies that want to attract diverse talent. Post your job vacancies and find qualified candidates from underrepresented backgrounds. By increasing representation, this resource promotes diversity and inclusivity in the workplace and helps businesses to benefit from the unique perspectives and experiences of a diverse workforce.’

    Specific Groups - Inclusion

    • Some agencies already mentor within XLP and give work experience – but it is also only for inner London:  "XLP is about creating positive futures for young people growing up on inner-city estates in London, struggling daily with issues such as family breakdown, unemployment and educational failure, and living in areas that experience high levels of anti-social behaviour and gang violence."
    • Key4Life: You cannot get more diverse than young offenders. They work with over 100 corporates to give these kids a chance.  You can mentor or you could host a 3-day Work Taster to help diversify your workforce: "carefully pre-screened, coordinated work tasters are low-risk ways to meet talented, diverse people you wouldn’t have otherwise met." 
    • If you want a shot at recruiting the 33% of working-age adults who are disabled, chronically ill, and neurodiverse you would do well to join SIC’s Hire a Trainee scheme. During the pandemic, the numbers of disabled people being made redundant grew disproportionately, so nearly 50% of that community are now unemployed.
    • Some agencies – particularly those who are Disability Confident employers - use Evenbreak’ to recruit and retain disabled talent.
    • BITC notes that millions of people want to work – so their site connects us with carers, veterans, disabled, homeless, refugees, ex-offenders…  Not seen agencies use this charity but they have been going for 40 years and their patron is King Charles III.
    • If you think veterans would help your agency look at RFEA, the Forces Employment Charity – for example their TechVets programme which gives them digital skills.
    • Here is a story of how a refugee web designer was helped by Transitions to get a job in the UK.
    • If you are anxious to recruit more science/tech/engineering and maths youngsters in your local area become a STEM Ambassador.
    • The 93% Club is a members’ club for university graduates who went to state schools.
      ‘We exist to dismantle the class inequality that exists in Britain today through the power of community. By bringing together thousands of like-minded individuals across the country, we are breaking down the structural barriers to social mobility and building a future that’s fairer for the next generation.’ They work with employers – both on campuses and via their digital platform.
    • Career Ready: ‘Young people from under-represented backgrounds are less likely to enter further and higher education, secure professional jobs, and receive higher earnings. For nearly 20 years we’ve worked in partnership with employers across the UK to change this.’ You can mentor, give paid internships (even if an SME), tutor skills masterclasses or arrange workplace visits. Career Ready help with volunteer training, data, area managers. In return they say employers get help with their talent pipeline, D&I representation, brand awareness, employee engagement and ESG (environmental, social, corporate governance) – that last being very helpful for pitch tenders!
    • Making the Leap have been working for 30years in London and can partner companies with young people who could do with some social mobility help. There is a nice testimonial from someone who now works at an agency as an apprentice. Agencies can mentor or teach.
    • Downs Syndrome Association Workfit: This is an employment programme which brings together employers and job-seekers who have Down’s syndrome. It is a tailored service dedicated to training employers about the learning profile of people who have Down’s syndrome so that they can be supported in the workplace. 'We focus on finding the right employment opportunities for people who have Down’s syndrome and ensuring that they have the support they need to be successful in the workplace.’

    Specific Groups - Age

    • If you are interested in balancing the skewed age of our industry and employing people over 45, you could take leaf out of WWP’s book and organise something like Visible Start. See here for support of this programme and detail from a senior media agency woman who herself got in the business via apprenticeships. And see this article in campaign about the launch of Visible Start 2.0.
    • Or recruit from an organisation like Digital Mums: "We have a big vision here at Digital Mums to support every mother to become a lifelong learner. We believe this is the route to reducing maternal unemployment and supporting women into rewarding, flexible careers." They, for example, teach the candidates social media marketing skills.  Campaign and various newspapers have lauded their approach. 
    • Greys Matter are a suggested partner on the All In Hub at The Advertising Association for recruiting over 50s.
    • Back2Businessship is celebrating 10 years (in 2023) of being a returners programme for the marketing and communications industry. The programme is free but potential candidates have to apply and they are looking from September 2023 for the March 2024 intake for those from ethnically diverse or lower socio-economic backgrounds in particular. The Advertising Association is a fan. They have a number of major agencies as partners, although it is unclear how this translates into becoming an employee.

    Apprenticeship Training Providers

    • Apprentify were only founded in 2018 but have already found great favour with two big agency networks in the midlands, for both their teaching and recruitment.  They reach out in all the normal ways e.g. via Indeed, but also go into schools and have good relations with faith organisations.  This means they have regular assessment centres of candidates waiting but also can take specific briefs on many of the apprentice roles we use in our industry.
    • A provider who recruits heavily for Digital Marketer is Impact Futures. They do three versions – Standard, Social and SEO.  They charge nothing to do the recruitment – they use the National Apprenticeship site, plus Indeed and Get My First Job. Although they screen for eligibility before sending the candidates to the client it is not clear if this would also work for diverse groups. They have an enormous rolling programme for that standard and can take just one person from an agency onto it almost immediately. They will also recruit for traineeships. This is a government-backed scheme where the agency would receive £1,000 per 16-24 aged trainee for every six-week work placement and interview for an apprentice role or another job, arranged by training providers in the scheme.  A try before you buy plan!  It was running alongside Kickstart, which has now closed.
    • There are other apprenticeship training providers who will often help with recruitment - such as The Bauer Academy.  Bauer for example worked with a major creative agency to find candidates for creative apprenticeships. They can offer tailor-made recruitment solutions (such as assessment centres) and always put vacancies on their social and marketing channels.
    • Originally set up as a training provider to provide an alternative for diverse groups who couldn’t afford to go to university is Multiverse. They typically take 20% of any group of 200 but continue to work with the unsuccessful to encourage them to reapply for digital, tech, data and project management apprenticeships. They regularly recruit for cohorts in agencies but also have a rolling programme onto which single candidates can be dropped. They are proud of a number of stats: 90% completion rate, 87% stay between 2.5 and 4 years, Ofsted rate them outstanding in all categories.
    • Cambridge Spark Futures "help organisations achieve their data, digital & technology transformation objectives by attracting vetted, high potential, early career, role-ready Apprentice, Grad & PhD talent into tech roles with accelerated skills development to deliver on immediate priorities and projects in data and technology."
    • Agencies have reported using Apprenticeship Fairs such as this one in Leeds to find candidates for apprenticeships.


    Apprenticeships information for employers
    Last updated 01 May 2024