Diversity: the real enemy is boredom

Diversity: the real enemy is boredom

Diversity cuts across every single item of an agency's To Do list, writes Grey London's chief executive.

Copious amounts of hot air, hours of conference panels, endless hand-wringing – and now, a public spat about people growing tired of hearing about diversity – have left our industry at its most exposed and looking, at best, indulgent.

But one good thing came out of the debate sparked by Justin Tindall, and that’s the spotlight he shone on one of the biggest challenges to improving diversity: boredom.

For all the talk of diversity, the creative industry remains a bastion of white male privilege as the dial on the underlying problem has barely shifted. Obviously, this is not good. Neither is it good for diversity to be a topic some feel tempted to refer to flippantly. But more important than who said what – or, rather, what was really meant – is the fact that it’s not too late to make diversity in this industry real.

So let’s start with some basics. Well-intentioned support for diversity is meaningless unless it’s costing something. Probably money; certainly, time and energy. Want to know how to get it wrong? Put "Diversity Initiative" on your list of things to do and watch it gently float to the bottom as pressing day-to-day considerations kick in. Instead, realise that diversity cuts across every single item of an agency’s To Do list.

To embrace diversity at scale, don’t look for shortcuts – it’s too complex a problem. Let’s stop kidding ourselves that saying we’re pro-diversity on a yacht in Cannes is sufficient. It isn’t. Either you’re actively taking action now, or you’re part of the problem.  

The good news is that we are an industry hard-wired with the skills and energy to find solutions to this sort of societal problem. Which is why Grey decided to build an industry-wide collective – The Diversity Taskforce – with 19 other agencies to address the core issues and deliver the scale of cultural change required. 

Data: What’s the true story?

It’s hard to know how well you’re doing if you don’t even know where you’re starting from. When we temporarily re-launched as Valenstein & Fatt, we conducted an anonymous census to really understand who we are. We now know, for example, that 61% of our crew were state-educated against a national average of 92%. To be honest, we don’t know how that number compares to other agencies – and, most likely, they don’t either. Which is why MediaCom has helped re-engineer the initiative, working with research company Opinium on behalf of the entire taskforce, it will ensure each agency has it’s own secure data and all can see real benchmarks.

This will go live in November, and any agency can sign up and get involved. Our name may return back to Grey London but we want the spirit of acceptance and diversity pioneered by our founders, Valenstein & Fatt, to live on.    

Access: Smashing the Closed Shop

Barriers to people entering the creative industry from diverse backgrounds are well-documented. If the advertising episode of The Apprentice is the only representation of agency life, it’s little wonder that so many decide it’s not for them. 

So the Taskforce is taking co-ordinated action (1). FCB Inferno is building a content programme to stop young people de-selecting themselves from our industry before they’ve even left school (2). Grey is developing a mass audience entertainment property to present agency life in a more positive and inclusive way (3). Industry role models people can relate to are being recruited via a co-ordinated Ambassadors Programme driven by Dentsu Aegis and Lucky Generals (4). The Taskforce is also working through the gnarly challenge of how we pay our young people fairly. Grey has already created the Valenstein & Fatt bursary. Wieden & Kennedy and Creature are able to take this a stage further, building a long-term platform to transform the pay model for all entry level including internships and apprenticeships.

Development: So you’re in. But how do you progress?

Too many people from diverse backgrounds find it hard to progress, in part because they lack family and friends to fall back on for career advice. At Grey, we’ve trained and prepared our entire senior team for diversity mentoring. In parallel the Taskforce, via VCCP and Sunshine, will launch an industry-wide mentoring scheme accessible this Autumn.

Modern Britain: what picture are we painting?

The diversity of talent appearing in our work still falls well short of reflecting the size and makeup of the wider population. To address this, the Diversity Taskforce helped co-fund a shoot with the #SoWhiteProject to tackle visual bias.

On a bigger scale, Saatchi & Saatchi and We Are Social, with the support of the Advertising Association, are now building an industry-defining research audit to help us establish a true baseline. In parallel, AMV BBDO and Ogilvy & Mather are working on on-screen diversity Best Practice.

So we have 10 key initiatives led by 12 agencies and supported by six more. That’s 20 of the most progressive agencies in London, working together to create difference.

How will we measure success?

Data from the outset is critical if we are to measure progress. So, we will assemble evidence of improvement in the number of people from diverse backgrounds at all levels of seniority against a 2017 baseline. And we will benchmark ourselves against the professional services – especially (and frustratingly) accountants and management consultants, who are attracting some of the UK’s best kids simply by putting resource behind the problem.

So, what can I do now?

Join the Diversity Taskforce. Ask your chief executive whether they’re on-board and, if not, offer to help, drive, push and make it happen. If you are a chief executive tired of the diversity panel bullshit, sign up here and put your agency on the side of diversity-good instead of diversity-poor. Make diversity a "Must Do" today rather than a "Would Like" you never quite get around to. And don’t ever let diversity become boring – our industry will fail in its attempt to achieve it if we ever let it become so.

Leo Rayman is chief executive of Grey London 


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