Change is too slow: the truth about the IPA's diversity report

Why the latest IPA data must act as a wake-up call for the industry.

If the industry maintains its current momentum, the IPA’s latest diversity survey suggests that it will not reach its 2020 targets for another decade. Just think of all the talent and creative opportunities the industry will lose out on over those years. Who can afford to wait that long?

It has been four years since Tom Knox, chief executive of MullenLowe and the IPA’s visionary president in 2015/16, set out a manifesto for diversity. There was a clear agenda, laying down ambitious diversity targets, including 40% female representation and 15% black, Asian and minority-ethnic representation in leadership by 2020, with 25% of new starters coming from BAME backgrounds. 

The IPA continues to fully champion the agenda and doing as much as it can at a macro level, and this latest report shows – in the words of Karen Blackett, UK country manager at WPP – "the green shoots of progress". Clients such as Diageo are clamouring for faster results. In December 2018, its global chief marketing officer, Syl Saller, turned up the heat by asking agencies for gender representation, citing "the pace of substantial change is too slow". Is she right?

Let’s look at the headlines.

BAME leaders are 5.5% of adland’s C-suite – a 0.8 percentage point gain on last year.

To reach the 15% target will take another 10 years. We see from our Creative and Media Equality Standard that the impact of this lack of BAME C-suite leaders is profound. Few BAME leaders equates to few role models, leading to low retention for BAME juniors. So shifting this one metric is business critical.

Ethnic diversity has inched up to 13.8% from 12.9%.

This is at its "highest recorded" level and, at media agencies, it is even higher at 15.2% (up 0.2 percentage point from the year before). Yet, let’s put this in the context of London, where many of the large agencies have their headquarters. Non-white groups make up 40% of London’s population. These figures should be higher.

Female C-suite leadership has ‘marginally improved’.

Women at C-suite level have increased from 31.2% to 32.7%. If we increase the number by 1.5 percentage point every year, the industry won’t reach 50/50 gender representation at C-Suite level for another 12-15 years.

Xavier Rees, chief executive of Havas London, calls this out: "These figures are embarrassing. Since 2016, adland has regressed. Then, 33.1% of C-suite roles were filled by women and many agencies pledged to 'make the leap by 2020’. Three years on, we are at 32.7%. We have more ground to make up than when the initiative started. What a joke!

"By 29 February 2020, it’s possible we have spent four years achieving nothing. Agencies need to decide whether this is important and then act, not chat. It needs to be a topic in board meetings and a priority for senior management.

"If you do one thing in the first three months of 2019, put your agency through Creative Equals’ Equality Standard review. It gives you a thorough, unbiased read of how your agency is faring when it comes to diversity and helps you define clear actions to move things forward."

Less than half of the IPA’s agencies reported their data.

There is a 15 percentage point drop in agencies reporting their data. Many asked for their figures not to be published in Campaign, citing "privacy reasons". The elephant in the room is this: agencies don’t want to be exposed. Few have done the real work where it counts: on themselves. The importance of this data is given business clarity by Richard Robinson, managing partner at Econsultancy and chair of The Ideas Foundation: "It’s the norm for senior clients to expect to know how committed their current or future agency is to hiring and promoting diverse talent, and leveraging diverse ideas for the benefit of their brands and customers."

The threat of Brexit

If "no deal" comes to pass, the drive for diversity – like May’s deal – could plummet. Like brands pulling adspend in times of recession, if we revert to "safe mode" diversity – a proven driver of profitability, creativity, innovation and happiness – will be put into the "nice to have" investment camp. We simply must "hire different" to keep a razor-sharp competitive advantage.

As Blackett says: "Our industry thrives on nurturing and encouraging diverse talent from across the globe to build their careers here in the UK. With Brexit around the corner, ensuring that the UK ad industry continues to compete on the world stage means we have to attract diverse talent and that they in turn feel welcome. We all have a responsibility to make this happen."

So what next?

To create real change, every company has to understand change is systemic.

It starts with every C-suite team knowing their own shop floor, understanding the impact of banter, the behaviours of leaders, day-to-day bias, who gets promoted, who gains key assignments, what kind of training people need, turnover by groups and more. Change will only happen when every leadership team understands its own policies, practices and culture. This is what our Equality Standard, a kitemark for equality, does. Every company needs its own road map.

"Our efforts need to focus on inclusion and cultural change, as well as pipeline diversity. Only then will we ensure the increases that we are starting to see lead to long-term sustainable change," Blackett explains. "We are seeing the green shoots of more diversity in the industry, which is encouraging. It is, after all, a business imperative, as our industry has to reflect the customers that we serve."

This data covers gender and ethnicity but, of course, we have to drive deeper; diversity includes age (5% of the industry is over 50), neurodiversity, disability, LGBT+, education and faith.

Chief executives: this IPA report – and its results – is your call to action. Inclusion and diversity need a proper budget – diversity is not training, marketing or HR.  

It means KPIs for every leader against the IPA’s targets. It means deep cultural change and, of course, a fierce competitive advantage.

It’s time to turn those green shoots into a colourful garden. And move up these IPA numbers and champion diverse talent more quickly.

Ali Hanan is founder and chief executive of Creative Equals

Subscribe today for just $89 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber

GET YOUR CAMPAIGN DAILY FIX

The latest work, news, advice, comment and analysis, sent to you every day

register free