BAME employees need support networks

All of us in the industry must prioritise supporting talent from diverse backgrounds.

"Though you may feel more at ease working with people who share your background, don’t be fooled by your comfort. Hiring indviduals who do not look, talk or think like you can allow you to dodge the costly pitfalls of conformity, which discourages innovative thinking. In a nutshell, enriching your employee pool with representatives of different genders, races, and nationalities is key for boosting your company’s joint intellectual potential. Creating a more diverse workplace will help to keep your team members’ biases in check and make them question their assumptions. At the same time, we need to make sure the organization has inclusive practices so that everyone feels they can be heard. All of this can make your teams smarter and, ultimately, make your organization more successful, whatever your goals."

The words of David Rock and Heidi Grant in the Harvard Business Review underline the fact that striving to increase workplace diversity is not an empty slogan – it's a good business decision.

Yet black, Asian and minority-ethnic representation in media owners as well as media and creative agencies remains significantly below the communities in which we live. In agencies, the figure hovers around 13%, while media owners don’t currently have a centralised forum for collecting or sharing their data. Regardless, most media industry events remain a sea of white with the odd non-white face, despite the London BAME population sitting at 41%.

Most of us first- or second-generation immigrants were encouraged to pursue a career in medicine, law or accountancy to ensure a safe and steady income for the future and, as such, media was a relatively unknown career opportunity. This has been worsened by our sector’s propensity to recruit from within, in effect closing the industry to outsiders.

A number of businesses are beginning to address the issue by engaging with organisations such as Creative Access or the Brixton Finishing School to help bring in BAME talent, while others have invested in their own initiatives. For example, Global (Primesight's new owner) has invested in creating its own academy, which aims to help 14- to 19-year-olds prepare for a career in broadcast and digital media.

Within our industry, wonderful support forums such as Bloom, Gather and Wacl have sprung up for women, while PrideAM spearheads change and equality for our LGBT+ colleagues. Nabs, meanwhile, works hard to improve diversity and inclusion across the board with its raft of support services and industry initiatives. Yet people from BAME backgrounds had not managed to replicate this success by forming their own organisation. So I decided to change this.

The start of Media for All

Last year, I corralled a number of senior BAME executives into a room to create Media for All. Our mission is to highlight BAME issues in media and advertising, support organisations working to increase the proportion of BAME talent and find a way of supporting that talent.

This mission came to life when I asked Nabs to run a speed mentoring group where all the mentors were from a BAME background – and, along with myself, we managed to secure many of the industry’s very best:

  • Karen Blackett, country manager, WPP
  • Bhavit Chandrani, controller of sponsorship sales, ITV
  • Jason Dormieux, global chief transformation officer, Wavemaker
  • Julian Douglas, vice-chairman, VCCP
  • Arian Kalantari, co-founder, LadBible
  • Gen Kobayashi, head of strategy, communications, Ogilvy
  • Dora Michail, managing director, Telegraph Media Group
  • Liam Mullins, managing partner, the7stars
  • Dino Myers-Lamptey, managing director, MullenLowe Mediahub
  • Dara Nasr, managing director, Twitter
  • Rak Patel, head of sales, Spotify
  • Satin Reid, joint managing director, MediaCom
  • Trevor Robinson, founder and executive creative director, Quiet Storm

Anyone could apply to attend the session, but we assumed that we would attract a lot of BAME talent. The event took place at Twitter’s London office and was completely oversubscribed – proving just how much our talent is looking for this sort of opportunity.

I was struck by the quality of talent and their ambition to do great things. However, it is fair to say that some of the attendees seemed lost and unaware of what steps they needed to take in order to progress. They are looking for mentors and are hungry for advice and learning opportunities; yet they do not know where they can get it and are worried about what Brexit will mean for the current diversity drive in our industry.

There were three great takeaways from the event that I believe organisations need to really consider.

1 People from a BAME background need support networks

Life is tough when you are the only person of colour in an office. Interestingly, most of the mentees did not want to create "BAME only" groups that segregated themselves even further from their company. 

2 It is harder to deal with self-doubt when you come from a BAME background

Organisations need to work a lot harder at giving clear and honest feedback with BAME employees. This is particularly true when it comes to negative feedback. They need real clarity when things have not gone well.

3 Young BAME talent are not shy to voice their opinions

They are eloquent and vocal, and are not scared to challenge. They are demanding, and if they do not feel like they’re a part of your business, they will find a new business to join. 

Nabs chief executive Diana Tickell and her team were instrumental in bringing this event to life. She explained: "One of the key learnings from Diversity in Action, our most recent diversity panel, was that key to attracting and developing BAME talent is to ensure that senior BAME figures in the industry are visible, accessible and able to share their wisdom with those looking for much-needed role models.

"We were delighted to team up with some of the most impressive people working in the industry – such as Karen Blackett OBE, a former Nabs president – who so generously gave their time to speak with young BAME talent. Junior adlanders need experienced role models – not just to learn from, but to be inspired by. They need to see that it’s possible to be BAME and successful in this industry."

Like most things in modern life, we have a tendency to want everything now, but I appreciate a more balanced representation within our industry – particularly at more senior levels – won’t happen overnight.

On the flip side, it has never been easier to find a more diverse pool of early-career talent who are smart, keen and ready for their first foray into the exciting world of media and advertising. It is these individuals who will make our sector not only more diverse, but arguably more successful in the future. We would scold ourselves, our colleagues and even our clients if we weren’t doing things that made us stand out or perform better; and for many organisations, ensuring a more diverse employee base across the board might just be the secret to doing that with even greater success.

Naren Patel (pictured above, left, with Tickell and Nasr) is chief executive of Primesight

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