A few weeks ago, an irate Jonathan Mildenhall posted a series of tweets taking aim at what he claimed was a lack of "dark-skinned" Cannes Lions jurors. The high-profile Airbnb marketing boss, who recently described himself as a "mixed-race English kid who grew up on a council estate", called for the ethnic-diversity agenda to "pick up pace".
Due to excellent work by the IPA, in partnership with Campaign, agencies’ ethnic composition has begun to be put under the spotlight, but Mildenhall’s concerns could also be applied to brand-side marketers.
Certainly at the top of the industry, there is a dearth of black, Asian and minority-ethnic marketers. Think about the awards shows, industry dinners, networking events, conferences, roundtables or even Campaign’s Power 100. How often do you sit next to someone from a brand who isn’t white? BAME marketing chiefs such as Mildenhall are few and far between.
It may be that there are younger BAME people out there who will one day come bursting through the ranks. However, it’s hard to know as there is no centrally held information about the ethnic breakdown of marketing departments.
Of course, this issue is rooted deeply in socio-economic, educational and cultural trends that go way beyond the marketing industry. In the interests of fairness, I sought out "power" lists across different professions and their top players had a similar complexion to those marketers leading the biggest brands. The exception was Pulse’s list of the UK’s most influential GPs. So my digging found that, by and large, the most powerful jobs in the land are done by white men. What’s that phrase involving Sherlock again?
But we shouldn’t just shrug our shoulders and say: "Oh well, that’s the way it is." Steps can be taken. Read Rick Hirst on the new apprenticeship levy that will enable large employers to access apprentices. Then ask whether your marketing department has the capacity to take any of these young workers who are likely to have diverse backgrounds.
Do your recruitment practices truly promote equality? Analysis published by the TUC last year found BAME workers with degrees are two-and-a-half times more likely to be unemployed than white graduates. Eschew the tick box and do more than the minimum required by your HR department.
Marketers are adept at finding creative solutions to challenges, so why not apply your marketing nous to this one?
From transparency to disruption, there are 101 issues that marketing leaders are having to grapple, but this is worth making the time for given that the moral and business case for creating a diverse workforce is indisputable.
Gemma Charles is acting UK editor of Campaign.