Adland lacks working-class, BAME, disabled and LGBT+ leaders, study finds

Study also finds quarter of men feel white, middle-class men are disadvantaged by diversity drive.

Adland: employees feel there is a lack of diversity at the top
Adland: employees feel there is a lack of diversity at the top

Adland might like to project an image of being liberal and inclusive, but in findings that will come as a surprise to few, new research on creative and media sector employees has found that the industry's leadership does not reflect the diversity of society. 

The study of 300 professionals at creative agencies, media agencies and media owners by women's networking organisation Bloom UK and media agency UM found that 59% think the industry is not progressive at all – and this rises to 64% in creative agencies.

The poll asked employers whether their agency had three or more leaders who were black, Asian and minority-ethnic, openly LGBT+, working-class or disabled.

Just 7% said they had any disabled people in positions of leadership, while 11% said they had three or more openly LGBT+ people in positions of leadership. Meanwhile, 12% said the same for BAME leaders and 15% for working-class leaders.

Almost three-quarters (72%) said having a visibly diverse leadership team was the defining characteristic of adland's most progressive companies and 59% said having a visibly diverse leadership was the number-one way agencies could become more inclusive. 

The research also surveyed people's attitude to barriers to career progression. More than half – 60% – believed they had faced unfair barriers because of their background, including their gender, sexuality and ethnicity.

Meanwhile, among the men who were polled, a quarter (26%) felt the diversity and inclusion drive at agencies was putting senior white men at a disadvantage, while a third (34%) believed women had more opportunities for support, training and personal development than men.

There's a risk diversity is seen as a threat

Stephanie Matthews, president of Bloom UK, said while it might be possible that diverse leaders did exist without people being aware of them, it was "clear" that diversity was "genuinely lacking at the top".

She said those in "privileged positions" had the potential to be diversity’s "greatest allies", but warned that progress will be limited unless any "perceived threat" is addressed. 

"We need to ensure the education job is done. Those pushing for diversity are in danger of sitting in an echo chamber and so they need to talk to their friends and colleagues," Matthews said. "It’s understandable that many of those in privileged positions feel threatened. To tackle this, we must get the conversations out into the open."

Sophia Durrani, managing partner, strategy, at UM, added: "The overwhelming message from the research is that our industry is still too focused on talk when it comes to diversity and inclusion and there’s not enough action. People are fed up; we need to stop resisting what the world actually looks like and find ways to embrace it."

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