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A beginner’s guide to Diversity, Inclusion and Representation in Advertising

/ September 22nd 2020

So you want to make a difference to the diversity & inclusion in our industry, as well as the positive representation in what we produce externally, but don’t know where to start? Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place. 

Inclusion & Representation should matter to all of us, whatever industry we work in, because it’s a positive movement for equality which benefits & enriches us all. For advertisers however it’s even more critical because it is literally our job to understand, reflect and effectively communicate to an audience which is by definition diverse. If we don’t have diverse minds & opinions shaping that advertising, if we don’t draw on insights which truly explore the positive differences in our consumers, if we don’t find ways to communicate & positively represent our target audiences, then we aren’t doing our jobs. 

That is why the Advertising Association, ISBA and the IPA joined forces to create The ‘UK Advertising Needs You Hub’, which is a showcase for the many Diversity and Inclusion initiatives in our industry and is the first of its kind. It is there to support all employers seeking to create a more inclusive workplace and to provide people with relevant information, whether they are seeking to work in our industry or are looking to upskill and build their networks. 

Whether intentionally or otherwise the advertising industry, like many others, has not naturally shaped itself to be highly diverse and inclusive. Many people thinking about a career in the industry will look at it, look at its events, look at its leaders, and conclude that it’s not for ‘people like them’. Every time that happens it’s a loss to the industry and to what we could have produced together, and we need to ensure it happens far less. It’s encouraging that this topic, especially in relation to race, has come so far up the agenda but now is the moment to act. 

It is NOT the responsibility of those marginalised and misrepresented to tell us how to fix things, they may even justly be tired of relentlessly explaining to people what the problem is at all. We need to respect and understand that. Change starts with ourselves,our own actions and our own businesses. Looking critically at our ways of working, processes, culture and actions to understand the points at which diversity is squeezed out of the system. Working with HR to define policies which are fully LGBT+ inclusive, taking action to ensure our offices and other activities are fully accessible to those with varying needs, understanding the ways in which those from other races or cultures can be excluded or not given a voice. It’s important to consider how you will recognise, measure and hold yourself accountable for this change within your business, and ultimately to lock that into your senior leaders’ objectives if we really want to see change. I’m fairly sure no company is perfect on this, but many have a good record of trying and together with external organisations can begin to show a template for the changes you might want to make. 

Then comes the question of how together we drive change across our wider industry. Of course that begins with countless changes within countless companies but there’s also a collective responsibility to move the needle on a bigger picture. We need to work harder to celebrate the diverse voices we do have, to give them a platform to shout about their achievements & opinions, and to role model the opportunities that do exist in our business. Frankly we need to do a lot more to advertise advertising to a broader audience who probably isn’t even considering a career in the industry. To reach out well beyond the top universities and to encourage those from a wealth of backgrounds to pick it as their career. We need to match that up with initiatives that welcome them of course, that train them and get them started without assuming they have a rich friend or relative in London who will support them as they try to get started. There’s much more to be done here but some notable positive initiatives which are trying to solve this which you can read about on our hub and are in urgent need of greater support. 

You also shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the Advertising Association and its associated members feel very positively and optimistically about the opportunity advertising has in breaking these stereotypes and being a part of wider societal change. Research by GLAAD and P&G in the US has recently shown that simple exposure to progressive, LGBT+ representative advertising can shift people’s opinions. It makes them more likely to welcome an LGBT+ family member or colleague, and makes them more likely to agree with the need for equal rights. Helpfully there’s also a wealth of evidence that progressive & more representative advertising drives better business results too, so it’s not a choice between doing the right thing for society & your people, or the right thing for your business.  

When you embrace diversity, inclusion and representation everyone wins, and we hope the resources and organisations featured on the Advertising Needs You Hub will help us all get there. For those working in global roles you might also want to consider the WFA’s work in this space, including their Diversity Task Force which I also co-chair. 

Jerry Daykin 
Senior Media Director at GSK, Advertising Association’s Inclusion Action Group member and WFA Diversity Task Force board member. 

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