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  • Claire Hutchings

Black squares are not enough. Marketing must drive change

Updated: Feb 16, 2021

The #Blacklivesmatters movement has to be a wake-up call to white people everywhere. If we learn one thing, it must be to acknowledge our privilege and make wholesale changes to our outlook and actions. As a hugely white-dominant industry, marcomms has a vast part to play in creating meaningful change.


It is no secret that the marketing and communications industry is mostly white. Less than 2% of Cannes attendees are people of colour, according to PR Week’s Consultancies Report, agencies comprise 89% white staff. The IPA suggests that just 13.8% of those working in ad agencies are from ethnic minority backgrounds and Creative Equals says that BAME senior leadership account for a mere 5.5% of the creative industry. Sober reading.


How can brands truly represent their customers (and attract new ones) if the majority of creative ideas, communications platforms and adverts come from one demographic? Worse than just not being representative, we are exacerbating the problem, perpetuating the very definition of white privilege without anyone to hold us to account.


Surely now has to be the time for an overhaul of the industry. It’s all very well agencies and brands posting black squares of solidarity in support of #blackouttuesday but it’s a hollow platitude unless followed by considerable change - which must start from the top.


To truly have an impact on diversity within the marketing and communications industry we cannot think in short term campaigns or Instagram trends, this needs business critical investment. Senior leaders must scrutinise everything, from the way they hire entry-level positions (paid internships and working with schools), the recruitment process (demanding recruiters provide a diverse candidate pipeline and a truly inclusive process) through to how pitch teams are formed, the internal culture they create and their employer brand.


Aside from it being fundamentally the right thing to do, there’s a business case for workplace diversity too. Diverse teams that reflect the world we live in are proven to be more productive and creative, therefore allowing agencies to produce game-changing work for clients. According to Forbes, decisions made and executed by diverse teams deliver 60% better results and diverse companies produce on average 19% more revenue. This is true too when looking at diversity through the lens of creativity as a 2018 Harvard Business Review meta-analysis of 108 studies confirmed that diversity in the idea-generation process also delivered better results.

But clients must hold the industry to account. Too often I have seen agencies talk the talk; now is the time for them to come good on their promises. Brand and client pressure on their agencies and industry bodies to prove their D&I credentials when pitching and throughout ongoing relationships is fundamental for change. Perhaps now, while the world braces itself in the wake of Covid-19, industry leaders should take stock and review their proposition to attract a more diverse workforce in order create client work that truly reflects the diverse society in which we live. 

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