The culture of a company has a huge impact on creative output.
It is proven that diverse teams are better teams across various industries, and media and advertising is no exception.
At the recent Creative Equals event there was evidence of momentum for even greater diversity in creative teams.
So hopefully we are making progress here – lots to do but the direction is right.
However, what happens when it comes to the distribution of that creative? How is that creative message being shown? Much of this now relies on algorithms and data platforms, and does it matter who builds this distribution engines? We think it does.
Technology platforms have a creative responsibility
Our reliance on technology platforms to distribute ads digitally is growing very quickly. The latest Digital Adspend report by IAB UK and PwC reported a growth of 14.3% in 2017 with advertisers spending £11.55bn on digital ads.
And why wouldn’t we continue to use digital when we know that is where consumers are spending more and more of their time? US consumers now spend almost six hours a day with digital media. But tech platforms need to be mindful of the consumer ad experience if they are to deliver successful results for advertisers, whether that is to sell more product or raise brand awareness. If not, then we risk a backlash, which is where we find ourselves today with trust in advertising being at an all-time low.
A recent Forbes article echoes this sentiment: "The people creating this technology have the power to influence how it works, and that’s too big a responsibility for any single demographic to have full control. A lack of diverse ideas and representation could lead to further disparities between gender, race and class."
Diversifying the knowledge base from which ideas stem only leads to more good ideas, not less.
It is clear that tech companies, particularly those in Silicon Valley, are not diverse at all. Indeed as described in Emily Chang’s book ‘Brotopia’, Silicon Valley thinks it has found the perfect solution of ‘rockstar leaders’ like Steve Jobs and ‘geek’ engineers. This male dominated ‘bro’ culture may be a bigger issue than we realise.
We all touch these platforms every day, so is the fact that they are built by a core group, not representative of the world’s population, a big problem?
Ethical pitfalls of tech and how to avoid them
Recent news has thrown up examples that demonstrate how certain ad tech developments have been created "because we can". The recent scandal that Facebook has been embroiled in with Cambridge Analytica proves the disregard shown for consumers’ personal data, and now consumers are starting to discover the lack of transparency they have over how their data is used or the power to stop or do something about it.
We, as marketers, need to ask some questions. Are we programming machines to simply chase the most vulnerable of consumers? Are we funding fake news?
Arguably, if diverse teams of people were working on technology developments, then not only would we get more creative thinking but also we have people who will ask questions about those developments - ‘should we be doing this?’
Undiverse teams of people from the same background, education, ethnicity, age will only breed homogeneous thinking. This is the last thing you want from creative teams so why would this be any different in technology?
What’s the solution?
There’s no quickfire solution but in order to get the right culture, we need to start at the top.
We have seen that success can happen if governments take action. Norway introduced a law in 2003 that requires companies [all sectors] to have at least 40% of company board members to be women and since 2006, it stipulated regulatory measure for non-compliance. After an initial grace period of two years for existing companies, failure to reach the 40% quota would lead to the company being delisted.
But is it governments that are accountable for pushing through diversity in tech industries and beyond? Do we need to lobby California next to see an impact in Silicon Valley that will have a knock-on effect on tech companies headquartered there? What about headquarters located elsewhere? Should they abide by local laws?
There are proven benefits of balancing gender ratio in a business beyond just increasing profit margin. An inclusive workplace reduces staff turnover due to a more dynamic, enjoyable work environment and more innovation, which allows you to stay ahead of the competition and offer new or improved services. You need an environment where you can bounce ideas off each other freely and having a range of different perspectives to inspire new ways of thinking is critical to development.
It’s a collective responsibility for us to challenge how tech companies are being run. Once you have it right at the top, next is to practise what you preach and spearhead inclusivity and champion diversity. Revisit hiring approaches to make sure they are open and inclusive so you are attracting a broad range of talent.
Technology companies have an ethical responsibility for what they are creating. The tech giants are making money from advertising, therefore they have a social responsibility too. Getting the culture right at the top is key but then you have to implement throughout the organisation if the benefits are to be felt by all and ultimately, by the users who are at the end of the experience - consumers like you and I.
The bias in tech is real, but it can be overcome. Let’s challenge the status quo and make technology better for everyone’s sake.
Paul Wright is CEO of Iotec