Diversity of talent leads to diversity of thought

In our creative industry diversity of thought comes from diversity of talent, it's as simple as that, writes Kate Bruges, the co-director of talent at JWT London.

Recently the industry has woken up to diversity in a big way. Tom Knox, the current IPA President has put it centre stage and in partnership with Campaign has made an important step by publishing the agencies’ own diversity statistics.

Nothing like some healthy competition to get agencies to sit up, take notice and change. Great initiatives like the 3% Conference have put the spotlight on the lack of female creatives at the heart of our industry and our industry’s output.

J Walter Thompson’s Female Tribes work puts the economic worth of women, Female Capital, centre stage. Many companies talk a good game now on Diversity. The benefits of a diverse workforce are well rehearsed. Fom McKinsey to Harvard Business Review, Facebook to Google, it’s unarguable.

However, this effort needs to be organic, joined up and right at the heart of an agency’s culture. It’s no use reaching out to attract a wider socio-economic and geographic group if your internships and work experience positions remain unpaid (and no, covering expenses isn’t enough).

Only those with family support, whether financial or the provision of a London roof over their heads, can possibly survive. So we pay our interns and offer around 100 every year.

It’s no use reaching out to attract a wider socio-economic and geographic group if your internships and work experience positions remain unpaid (and no, covering expenses isn’t enough).

We believe opening up access to as many as possible by offering two-week paid positions all year round is the best way to lift the veil on an industry that has remained something of a closed shop – the roles known only to those who already have family and friends’ connections with the industry.

It’s no use inviting a broader base of talent, not defined primarily by university degree, to apply for positions if the CV remains central to initial screening. Unconscious bias means that with the best will in the world, we quickly make assumptions about others based upon a limited amount of information.

We can have a tendency to hire in our own image and our personal definition of success. This can mean we revert to the academic and work-experience rich traditional CV as a reliable shorthand to sift from the hundreds of applicants to those favoured for interview.

Our own Pioneers Programme is open to everyone, not just graduates, and takes a blind approach, looking only at answers to six questions to screen applicants for that crucial first interview.

Importantly it also steps outside the standard milk round timing of traditional graduate recruitment programmes. Our Pioneers Programme is open for applications now and successful candidates will start in January.

And when our Pioneers arrive we want them to see that it’s possible to have a great and rewarding career in our industry whatever your lifestage. Many female applicants for example will already be taking into consideration how their careers will develop should they start families.

But it’s no use supporting mums through better maternity policies if fathers are left out of the equation. it’s then still Mum that is seen to bear the burden and pay the career progression price. The focus must always be on attractive family friendly policies to support mothers and fathers in combining family life and career and the language around this is of real importance.

So, we don’t have a JWT Mums group but we do have JWTFamily, a support group for everyone doing the juggling act that is family and creative advertising.

And finally it’s no use encouraging talent at different life stages, who live in different places and have different passions that positively inform their work if the underlying culture is about five days a week presenteeism.

Shift the focus to productivity and output and let that be the key performance metric. This is what makes sense, attracts and excites the diversity of talent we need in our industry.

Obviously all of the above is work in progress, here and across the industry but even beginning the journey is a huge step.

Diversity has to be top of the agenda, joined up, at the very heart of the agency’s culture and more importantly, practices, and understanding and calling out Unconscious Bias the personal responsibility of everyone.

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