Latest figures from the annual IPA diversity research paint a mixed picture in adland.
While the survey shows marginal increases in gender and ethnic diversity, the 2018 study had the lowest response rate in its three-year history.
In 2018, 70.8% of the employed base at IPA member agencies took part. This represents 105 agencies out of 230 contacted. This compares with an 85.8% completion rate in the 2017 survey. In 2016, when the survey was launched, 131 agencies out of 229 contacted took part, equating to 75.2% of the employed base.
This year’s diversity tables also mark a break from the past two years because agencies are not listed by name – a move that the IPA attributes to "data and privacy concerns". This means it is not possible to identify which networks or agencies have declined to submit data.
Diversity survey to become compulsory part of IPA membership
The IPA is committed to the annual diversity survey and is putting steps in place to ensure that it remains relevant to the industry, including making it compulsory for IPA members to submit data.
Leila Siddiqi, head of diversity at the IPA, said: "With the industry in a state of flux, the response rate for this year’s IPA diversity survey is slightly down due to a variety of operational and internal factors at individual agencies. However, this survey still represents over 70% of the IPA employed base and we are confident that these figures provide a clear overview of the state of the industry.
"Moving forward, we are committed to making our annual diversity survey a compulsory part of membership in the near future to ensure it remains a comprehensive look at gender and ethnic diversity in adland.
"We hope that, while this survey no longer publishes individual agency data, our members will use it to measure and monitor their own internal diversity data, and the IPA will always encourage them to make public commitments to continuously improving as a diverse and inclusive workplace."
The research shows a marginal increase in the proportion of women at C-suite level, increasing from 31.2% in 2017 to 32.7% this year. This marks the second-highest level of female representation in the history of the survey.
At creative agencies, women now occupy 32.8% of C-Suite roles, up from 30.5% in the previous year. At media agencies, there has also been a very small increase in female representation at board level from 32.2% to 32.7% in 2018.
The research also revealed that ethnic diversity in agencies is at its highest recorded level, with 13.8% of individuals from a BAME background, up from 12.9% in 2017. The BAME proportion is 12.4% at creative agencies (up from 10.7%) and 15.2% at media agencies (up from 15.0%).
Sarah Golding, the IPA president and chief executive of The & Partnership. said: "These figures show an encouraging upwards trend, particularly among industry newcomers. However, we still expect and need these figures to continue to climb and start to make a more significant impact on percentages in the more senior positions.
"The IPA does so much work in this area through its Creative Pioneers Apprenticeship scheme and its championing of women through the Women of Tomorrow Programme, but our work is far from done. In 2019, we will begin work on updating The Future of Work, which is an IPA report that looks at how we work and which was first published in 1990 as Women in Advertising. It will be fascinating to see what the industry thinks the challenges of today are and how we can continue to help address them."
Last year, Marilyn Baxter, who wrote the original Women in Advertising, report told Campaign: "In 30 years, it has changed only superficially. Agencies are very dynamic in what they do, but not open to changing the way they work. You would think they would have found lots of creative and different ways to work that would help women participate, but the disconnect remains."
Base: agencies providing ethnicity data
The IPA has set targets for the industry: 40% female and 15% BAME representation in agency leadership roles by 2020, as well as a quarter of new starters coming from BAME backgrounds. The IPA runs and supports a wide range of initiatives to help the industry to reach this goal.
Siddiqi works with member agencies and external stakeholders to share best practice and support diversity programmes. The IPA is also a member of the Advertising Diversity Taskforce, the cross-industry group looking at improving diversity in the advertising industry.
Research published by the Advertising Diversity Taskforce last year revealed that adland is still led by privately educated white men, with 31% of senior leaders privately educated and just 8% from BAME backgrounds.