The month in advertising: What Avengers Assemble teaches us about diversity

All the big issues in adland this month...

In her thought-provoking and wide-ranging discussion with Vogue publisher Vanessa Kingori, Karen Blackett reveals an interesting perspective on the WPP workforce.

"I love to think of WPP as the Avengers Assemble of talent, because it’s about everybody having a superhero power – that diversity of talent – coming together and working as a team. That’s what wins," the holding company’s UK country manager says.

Her thinking (which was inspired by trips to the cinema with her young son) is that while the Marvel superheroes do not look the same, or think the same or share the same attitudes and beliefs, when they come together as a team, their very different skills combine to form a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Bringing in very different people and encouraging them to be themselves – not to fit quietly into the existing culture – will give the industry the great advantage of true diversity of thought. This can stave off the groupthink that can see companies go stale and fall into decline. An absence of diversity of thought can lead to serious mistakes that have a detrimental effect on your brand and your company’s reputation.

In 2015, when Sir Lenny Henry was awarded his knighthood for services to drama and charity, ITN News used footage of Ainsley Harriott in its broadcast – we can only assume it was the result of a non-diverse production team. Even more recently, just a couple of weeks ago, BBC News did something similar, featuring LeBron James in the coverage of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death. Adland has had its fair share of racist fails as well. From H&M’s "coolest monkey in the jungle" hoodie through to Heineken’s "Lighter is better" ad, consumer brands continue to make mistake after mistake.

Having a more diverse workforce will also help the industry truly understand – and therefore communicate more effectively with – its target audiences, helping to generate business growth. 

Of all consumer purchases made in the UK, 83% are by women, including more than half of both car and computer purchases. 

McKinsey’s Diversity Matters report highlights that those organisations that are more gender diverse outperform those that are less so by some 21% in terms of profit delivery. 

So, it’s a pretty good idea to have some senior women that can help shape the business strategy, as they have a better understanding of the needs of half the population, how they think and how they feel. 

Likewise, while about 13% of the UK population as a whole comes from a BAME background, there are several towns and cities where this picture is already very different. In London, more than 40% of the population comes from a BAME background, in Oxford it is 20%, in Manchester it is 35%, in Birmingham it is 40%, in Leeds it is 21%, in Dudley it is 26%, in Reading it is 21% and in Luton it is 43%.

The rest of the UK is predicted to be as diverse as the capital by 2043. With one in four schoolchildren currently from a BAME background, these stats show that change is happening now.

These are consumers with immense and rapidly growing purchasing power. In 2001, the purchasing power of the BAME population in the UK was £32bn. Fast-forward to 2011, the time of the last official census, and this purchasing power had increased to a whopping £300bn. Imagine what that collective purchasing power is now in 2020. 

The aforementioned McKinsey report demonstrates that those businesses that are more ethnically diverse outperform those that are less so by some 33% when it comes to delivering profit. Put plainly, reflecting modern Britain will help future-proof businesses. 

There are many other dimensions of diversity to be considered. For example, the Advertising Diversity taskforce found that one in three industry leaders was privately educated versus one in 14 as the UK average. There is also much more work to do in areas such as disability, mental health and LGBT+. 

Getting there won’t always be easy. Diversity of thought naturally means that consensus will be harder to get, too, and tensions can exist. A certain amount of healthy conflict, tension and challenge can be a vital spark to creativity – and, if conducted with an open mind and mutual respect, will help us create better ideas. 

It will take true leadership. Culture is set from the top, middle and at the roots of an organisation. It will take a root-and-branch approach to attracting, keeping and progressing talent. 

It will take commitment and focus. Most of all it will take resource – resource in terms of people and resource in terms of budget. But it will be worth it. 

Picture: Shutterstock

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