The more diverse we are, the more creative we are

The IPA's latest diversity figures shine a spotlight on the path to progress for our industry.

When I became president of the IPA, I was asked repeatedly why I didn’t make diversity the core of my agenda. As a woman, it seemed I was expected by many to champion the female agenda.

So why didn’t I? Well, first, diversity is vital to everyone in our industry, not just women. And second, I was impressed by how committed the IPA already is in this area. We didn’t need further leadership; we needed to continue to deliver action.

And I think the recent numbers from the IPA’s annual diversity survey show that much has been achieved. How many other professional services industries can say that more than 50% of all jobs are now held by women? Ah yes, I hear you say, but how many of the top jobs are held by women? Well, still not enough, but this is improving, with 43.5% of department heads being women, an increase of five percentage points over the year before.

This is an area where the IPA is doing fantastic work, in particular the Stepping into the Spotlight and Women of Tomorrow programmes, which are helping to provide women with the tools, recognition and confidence to step up to more senior roles.

Sadly, as we go higher still, the figures get lower. And it remains a priority that we raise the proportion of of C-suite jobs held by women, currently at 32.7%.

And let’s turn to black, Asian and minority-ethnic representation. While 13% of the UK population belong to a black, Asian, mixed or other ethnic group, in our industry the figure is 13.8%, increasing about one percentage point in the previous 12 months.

We clearly still have to make progress across the board, but we are moving towards the IPA’s targets. Maybe too slowly, but still in the right direction. The figure I take most heart from is that 58% of those entering the advertising business today are women and/or from BAME backgrounds. This will drive the future of the industry in ways we all know it should be.

But there’s something else I want to reflect on. These changes haven’t come from agencies taking a quick fix approach or a Volkswagen-style fiddling of figures. Instead, the best agencies have created long-term programmes of action that will fundamentally change their make-up and cultures. I know about so many agencies, including my own, with bold commitments and brilliant schemes for recruitment, advancement and retention of diverse talent. These programmes exist not just because of the IPA’s encouragement, but because it is obvious that creativity is stimulated by a breadth of backgrounds, attitudes and experiences. The more diverse we are, the more creative we are. So, agencies are doing the right thing culturally and the right thing commercially – and when both agendas overlap, fundamental change will happen. It might be slow, but it will last.

I chose an agenda to help our industry be better able to embrace emerging technologies, to make magic with the machines. The machines will become new teammates to all of us, bringing new ways of thinking, behaving and interacting. So, in effect, the machines are another part of the overall diversity agenda, ensuring that the future of our industry sees brilliant ideas born of the most marvellous mix of minds and machines, happily creating together.

This will matter to everyone working in member agencies regardless of age, gender, sexuality, disability, background, faith or skillset. We must, of course, ensure we don’t project and embed any of our biases into the machines.

With continued awareness, acceptance and action, there will, I hope, come a point when diversity is a matter of fact, inclusivity is a reality and equality is achieved. And that will be the day the IPA no longer runs this survey. Until then, we will continue to lead, cajole and celebrate a diverse UK advertising industry.

Sarah Golding is president of the IPA and chief executive and partner of The & Partnership London

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