Tackling The Industry's Ethnic Diversity Problem Head On

St. Luke's and KP Snacks share their learnings from the positive action training programme- Flying Start

By Avnie Bansal

For the advertising industry to see significant change to the representation of ethnically diverse people, significant action is needed. Step forward St Luke’s Flying Start initiative - a positive action training programme aimed at driving the change the industry needs to see.

The paid, eight-week training programme, was launched in partnership with social mobility charity The Brokerage and supported by law firm Lewis Silkin. It provides a taster of four core disciplines within an agency - account management, strategy, creative and production, through a mix of tutorials and practical training, including a client brief for KP Snacks designed specifically for this programme. Creative Salon was invited to join the last week of the Flying Start programme to experience the energy and fizz of the experience and see how St Luke’s is going beyond its normal practices to actively seek out candidates from diverse backgrounds.

It’s time to go all in

"As an agency, we’ve got a really diverse workforce from all over the UK, America, Australia, and Europe. Gender diversity is great as well with a 50-50 female-male creative department. We see ourselves as an agency that really believes in diversity, but ethnic diversity has been a challenge," says Neil Henderson, CEO at St. Luke’s.

“But we found that part of the problem was that you couldn't advertise for ethnic diversity during the hiring process, because legally that is discrimination. By making the scheme a positive action training scheme we avoided this problem” The other challenge is that ethnic minorities are the ones most likely to want to leave the industry as soon as they're in, he explains citing the most recent data.

According to the latest All In Census, there remains significant divides in the representation of industry workers from ethnic minority backgrounds. Although there’s been some improvement in the representation of ethnic minorities in 2021, it is also the group that is most likely to leave the industry. The latest study found that 18 per cent of advertising folks are from a minority ethnic group, exceeding that of the wider population and improving on adland in 2021, when the figure was 16 per cent; however a third (32 per cent) of the Black talent in advertising say they’ll leave the industry altogether over lack of inclusion, while 27 per cent of Asian talent said the same. The report reinforced why St Luke’s felt the need to champion and educate diverse talent in our business.

According to Leanne Silman, Head of Transformation at St Luke’s, “The advertising industry and the creative industry have a brand image problem, which is quite ironic, given that's our specialism. We're not seen as an industry for people of different backgrounds."

The agency’s CMO Jess Gibb concurs. “Our industry is surprisingly not on many people's radar. It wasn't even a consideration for many candidates at The Brokerage." The charity works with both young people and employers to drive positive change in the workplace. But once St. Luke's advertised the training programme, adds Gibb, there was a real rush of interest from people from diverse backgrounds.

The slow ethnic diversity change at St Luke’s also comes down to the employee turnover rate, according to Henderson. "We have a very low churn at our agency impacting on us being able to change our employee mix rapidly. With fewer opportunities to hire, that's a hurdle for us."

Decoding the representation challenge

Unlike regular internship schemes, Flying Start is not just another “tick-a-diversity-box” exercise – as it is aimed to primarily attract people who don't have any exposure to the industry. Most graduate recruitment schemes and the usual internship programmes usually narrow down to the same kind of people, according to Henderson, whereas St Luke’s initiative aims to educate and prepare diverse talent. “Flying Start puts diversity properly on the table. And that's really healthy. Because people get nervous talking about diversity. Are we going to say the wrong thing? Are we going to use the wrong language? We recognise the issues but we would like to tackle it head-on.”

Flying Start isn't just a feel-good initiative, it also makes business sense. Chief strategy officer Dan Hulse talks of his “relief” about the programme and adds: “I am trying to bring different perspectives into the strategy department, but a career in planning hasn’t been the first choice for many people from diverse backgrounds. We needed to find a new approach. Flying Start tackles this problem at the root as it’s making an intervention that seems really, really necessary."

Looking ahead, the ambition for this innovative initiative is that other agencies adopt the Flying Start programme and include other modules such as media and PR. Silman says, "This programme is structured to stop people from leaving the industry and make sure they get into the right department in the first place, which suits their abilities and skills the best. So offering a broader breadth of different disciplines will be a great next step for the programme.”

Henderson points to the other “brilliant” initiatives from the industry such as VCCP Stoke Academy and diversity and inclusion programmes at The&Partnership and adds: “We need to not just find but also nurture talent from far and wide. And more importantly we need to do it together as an industry.”

For Flying Start, the agency sought counsel from industry friends such as the IPA and its own employees. “As an industry, we've got a tendency to come up with things first and hold it very, very close and make sure everyone knows this was the thing that we came up with. But that comes from a very singular point of view. Part of the success of the programme was that we've had our partnerships in place. It wouldn't be as good as it is now if we hadn't done that. It's about inclusion, isn't it?”

The programme has proven so successful that St Luke’s is planning to welcome a new intake of trainees next year. Applications for Flying Start 2024 will open in December this year, with the second intake starting the programme in Summer 2024.

The Flying Starters Takbir Rahman and Senny Limbu on their experience

CS: What has been your biggest learning so far?

Senny Limbu: Definitely learning about the advertising industry in general, knowing that it actually exists and that it's there. There are so many teams behind a single ad. And it's been really interesting just learning that there's basically a role for everyone in the industry.

Takbir Rahman: Being an outsider coming into the industry, I didn't know what to expect. But seeing literally how much thought goes into every little detail of the work, even if it's like, a gradient on a little part of the creative picture. So much thought and effort goes into every little bit of an ad.

CS: You’ve been at St. Luke’s for almost two months now, what key insights have you got about the advertising industry?

Senny Limbu: Throughout the eight weeks, we've been able to go into account management, strategy, creative production, just to be able to see everything in great detail, and also work with the people doing this day in day out as their daily job. It's also helped me realise what I want to do in the future for my career.

Takbir Rahman: Probably the kind of skills that you need to be in each department. So, in account management, you probably need to be organised, make sure that your communication is good; and strategy you need to make sure your research is thorough; and then creative is thinking outside the box.

CS: What are some things that have really surprised you about the advertising industry and agency life?

Takbir Rahman: I think how creatives work in pairs was really surprising. Just how they go through their whole careers together sometimes and have joint portfolios is amazing.

Senny Limbu: For me, I did not even know that creative advertising agencies existed. I thought anything advertising-related would just fall under marketing. Now, I actually know that these agencies exist, and then agencies like St. Luke's where you really collaborate and can work together. It's a really nice surprise.

CS: Have you identified some things that frustrate you about the industry? How would you go about making a change?

Senny Limbu: I would like to see more role models in the industry for people like me. It'd help me know it is possible to work in this industry and progress. I would have never thought about going into a creative industry, because of all the stereotypes around it. Especially when you're from an immigrant family, and the kind of pressures you have as the eldest daughter. There’s this pressure that whatever you do will be able to take care of the household. I'm not going to speak for everyone but I do understand that a lot of my friends and people from similar backgrounds don't have the luxury to pick what they want to study, what they can invest their time in. And most of us don’t know what or where a career in advertising can lead to.

Takbir Rahman: Maybe it’s the way advertising advertises itself? Because everyone hears about finance and tech, but not really about advertising. Everyone we've spoken to has said, ‘I just stumbled across advertising’. I feel if it was more out in the world, it’d appeal to so many more people.

KP Snacks- owned Tyrrells was the inaugural client for the Flying Start and worked with the students on a brief for the brand. We talked to marketing manager Beth Minch about the programme.

CS: Why did you agree to be part of the inaugural Flying Start Scheme?

Beth Minch: We believe it’s important to help nurture the next generation of talent to help foster creativity and generate fresh thinking which will also ultimately help drive our business growth. This scheme gave us a fantastic opportunity to help support this. Whilst our team already works closely with the St Luke’s team throughout a range of projects and executions, this programme has only further highlighted the fantastic work that the team do and the (future) talent behind it all!

CS: Diversity and inclusion - how business critical is that for you?

Beth Minch: Absolutely, inclusivity and diversity are crucial in creating long-term, sustainable businesses and thriving brands. I&D (Inclusivity and diversity) is at the heart of the KP business, and we want our team to feel like a diverse family where everyone is free to be themselves and we want that to extend to everyone that we work with. If businesses want to thrive, it’s important to encourage new, diverse talent- fresh thinking and new ideas that are going to challenge us and help our brands stand out, be seen and grow.

CS: Should clients be encouraging more programmes like Flying Start into their contracts with agencies in order to drive change faster?

Beth Minch: Absolutely, if businesses want to thrive, it’s important to encourage new, diverse talent, fresh thinking and new ideas that are going to challenge us and help our brands stand out, be seen and grow.

I’d definitely encourage others to embrace a programme like this.


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