Making advertising an industry for all

There’s no doubt that advertising can be a vibrant and creative option for job seekers. But the industry must get that message out to new talent from diverse backgrounds.

By Creative Salon

Let's be clear, you shouldn't be in business if you don't have a transparent, measurable and accountable system for hiring and supporting a diverse range of talent.

But let's also be clear: the advertising and marketing industries still have a long way to go before they can claim to be properly diverse, not just in terms of numbers but in terms of equity and belonging. Anyone in a position of influence needs to hold themselves to account on why progress has been so slow.

And it should go without saying that it’s non-negotiable that this issue must be addressed - it’s the right thing to do. It's also the business-critical thing to do. Advertising is stronger and more effective when it has the capacity to appeal to all audiences, to understand and embrace their needs and motivations.

Agencies are responding with better ways to make their doors open to all, regardless of factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, location, or social class.

Many now have schemes and programmes in operation that are designed to help new talent from a wide diversity of backgrounds gain experience of the industry and equip them with the tools for success. And many agencies also support organisations like the Brixton Finishing School and Create Not Hate that are working so hard to ensure the industry has a healthy future through a new pipeline of diverse talent.

It’s true that there remains so much work to do in terms of addressing imbalances. But progress is being made. For instance, there’s been a small improvement in the number of employees in advertising from a non-white background –15.3 per cent in 2020, up from 13.7 per cent in 2019, according to the IPA Census (the research from advertising trade body the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising).

Progress has perhaps been shaped by the participation of several agencies in schemes such as the Brixton Finishing School's, which provides a free 10-week programme for 18-25 year olds delivering a premium learning experience for students through a mixture of lessons and real-world advertising experience. It explicitly aims to reach under-represented groups – especially multi-cultural, working class, and women.

Ete Davies, chief executive of Engine Creative, says: "The need to champion diversity in advertising and encourage untapped talent from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds - whether BAME, neuro-diverse, or female – into the industry through training and work experience is vital.

"To drive meaningful change, initiating Engine Creative's Partnership with Brixton Finishing School to offer placements to underrepresented creative talent felt natural, notably overhauling our approach to hiring and retaining diverse talent. Diversity breeds success - building high-performing and inclusive environments by embracing differences and making the business more relevant makes the work more meaningful and the team more empowered."

Charles Courtier, chairman of MSQ Partners, says: "Due to the nature of what MSQ does it’s clearly important our business reflects all walks of life. It’s vital that we engage with a diverse mix of potential candidates – and, crucially, ensure they’re motivated and engaged when they’re part of the group."

The schemes and programmes catalogued in our Next Gen Hub are designed to reflect this spirit, and to provide clear information on routes into the business provided by agencies, and also non-profit bodies, to new talent from all communities and age groups.

This range of options is a step forward for advertising because, as Dan Cullen-Shute, Creature’s chief executive & founder, adds: “Diversity and inclusion policies only have impact when there are practical and measurable actions and initiatives implemented alongside them. At Creature we're definitely more focused on the latter. Since our inception ten years ago, we have had initiatives built into the agency so we can hire inclusively and build a culture that supports this.”

It’s not only young people that the programmes outlined here attempt to reach, and that’s important given some of the gaps highlighted in the IPA Census. In the wake of the COVID pandemic, the number of people over-60 years of age, for instance, in the industry diminished rapidly in 2020, falling by a significant 22.1 per cent. And numbers of women employed in advertising agencies fell by 12.8 per cent in 2020, compared to just 8.1 per cent for men.

There are both imaginative and practical ways that advertising agencies are adopting to encourage people from a whole range of backgrounds to embrace a career in advertising.

For instance, Adam&Eve DDB participates in the Creative Equals Comeback Programme, which was developed to encourage women who had been on career breaks from advertising by building the skills and confidence to return.

Atomic London’s Rope Ladder aims to inspire people from every corner of the country about the creative industry. Meanwhile, Bartle Bogle Hegarty has invested in a partnership with Hidden, a bias-free recruitment agency, to create a fairer hiring process.

With such an extensive range of outreach programmes on offer, there’s never been a better time to explore the potential of advertising as a career. No matter what stage you’re at.


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