Calling time on adland's diversity hypocrisy

Calling time on adland's diversity hypocrisy

No it's not 'controversial' to be bored with diversity, it's arrogance of the worst kind and it's high time the industry faced the brutal truth about its working practices, writes Kate Tweed.

"I long for a day of true equality. And I mean true equality. A day when a man can marry a horse if he so wishes. A day when sex with a raccoon is happening on every street corner and panda is on the menu in every good steakhouse".

"When lazy journalists actually come up with the next chestnut".

 "When holding companies find a new smokescreen".

"When my wife tells me it is".

"When Cindy Gallop says so".

"When the fat black lesbian lady sings".

Unfortunately, these aren’t the punchlines to some rubbish, outdated jokes. The above quotes are some of the responses from prominent industry folk to the ‘diversity debate’ question from this years’ Campaign A List.  Many more answers featured a ‘gag’ relating to Britain’s Got Talent.  And 10 men simply put their answers as ‘undisclosed’.  

I decided to do a bit of digging after Campaign pulled out Justin Tindall’s response to the same question and unfortunately it seems to me that this shows a worrying level of hypocrisy around the diversity issue.

Facing reality

We need to stop making bad jokes about diversity and dismissing it as hyperbole.  We need to stop patting ourselves on the back about how bloody brilliant we are.  Because the reality is that we have barely scratched the surface of the issue.

I loved Caitlin Ryan’s response to Justin Tindall’s comments.  And his response to her response clearly demonstrated that he had never given a thought to what it must be like to be a minority in this industry. This isn’t about bashing Tindall (again), because rightly or wrongly, the whole furore has reignited the conversation, which can only be a good thing.

Obviously I can only talk about my own personal viewpoint on diversity.  And that is one as woman and a working mum. I believe there are big leaps we need to make on the wider diversity issue as a whole but one element we collectively need to sort quickly is to truly and properly embrace flexible working.  Some agencies may already be brilliant at this.  And if so props to you.  By my experience to date tells me a different story.  

The motherhood penalty

At the agency I worked at when I returned from maternity leave after having my first child, I arranged a meeting to discuss flexible working.  I filled out a form.  Spent hours worrying about it and trying to think of all sorts of clever ways I could make it work.  I was so nervous about the meeting.  It was such a big deal for me.  My husband took the morning off work and came with me so he could look after the baby whilst I was in the meeting.  

The meeting was great.  All my suggestions were agreed.  I made it clear that whilst I would be in 15 minutes later every morning, and would need to leave 45 minutes earlier in the afternoon, I would work on my hour commute each way, would be on the phone whenever needed and would be happy to work in the evenings at home once my baby was asleep.  

This was all fine!  Four days a week was fine.  It literally couldn’t have gone better.  I left feeling brilliant and excited.  

Until a few days later, I got my new contract through the post.  My salary had not only been reduced by 20% because I wouldn’t be working on a Friday (fine, expected), but I would receive a further 6% reduction because I would be coming in later and leaving earlier than "normal, contracted" hours.  

This was not brought up in the meeting.  This was not discussed with me at any point, other than when I queried it.  I was told: "Flexible working is a permanent change to your original terms and conditions of employment, which is why it has to be fixed in terms of hours worked and your salary has to be pro-rated to reflect this change".

Doesn’t seem very flexible to me.  Nor modern or progressive.  I had left the meeting feeling so excited and pumped to return to work, ready and willing to put in whatever hours were required to do a brilliant job, to feeling deflated and devalued.  All in the space of time it took me to read one sentence of a letter.

Because I had to leave ‘early’ to pick up my child I felt like a secondary citizen within the agency.  My friends in the industry tell me the same.  That or they just have to work even longer hours than they did before to prove themselves all over again.  My ambitions did not evaporate the second I gave birth.  Nor did my ability to deliver projects to the high standard I was always known for.  

So I resigned.  Without a job to go to.

A bit scary.  But liberating.  Finding a job in a new agency on a four day week proved quite difficult.  And only a handful of female recruiters thought it would be possible to find one.  But I stuck to my guns and I did.  

I found myself an agency which truly is progressive and modern, and doesn’t give a shit if I’m ten minutes late or have to leave early sometimes.  I am able to do my job, wherever I need to do it.  If I’m not at my desk, no one questions where I am, because as long as I deliver, it doesn’t matter.

The brutal truth

This industry has changed so much since I joined it.  The days of long lunches with clients feel distantly in the past.  In all honesty, a lot of the fun has been sucked out.  When did it all become so serious?  Yes, our business is to provide a service to clients, but I’m not sure why it has to be so brutal.

I’m sure clients appreciate that agencies have actual humans working within them, with commitments outside of work.  If we are open and honest with our clients about how their business is going to be serviced within the agency and not spread our people too thin, life could be very different.  We need to be the change, not just talk about it.

Lets offer proper flexible working.  Lets remove names from CVs to counter unconscious bias.  Lets scrap ‘grad’ schemes in their current format.  Let’s stop giving our mate’s kids work experience.  Let’s stop making jokes about diversity.  Let’s stop making light of the situation in general and let’s just work harder to change the reality.  Because the reality is very different to what is portrayed in Campaign.


Kate Tweed is business director at Duke

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