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Is media land ready for diversity?

Creative and advertising businesses are turning to diversity and inclusion as the next step in their business journey.

Some companies are already planning change. At GDP, we have recently had an interest in D&I workshops and seminars from advertising, media, and publishing groups. We have also advised many leading brands on how to ensure they promote a positive message in relation to diversity and inclusion.

Given the often “anti-establishment” and free image of the creative sector – people of all appearances dressed however they wish in offices that look more like a club than a corporation – it may come as a surprise to hear that the data shows this sector is neither very diverse nor very inclusive.

To lead change, many of its senior leaders are making statements about the importance of diversity and inclusion.

A good example is a recent article in Campaign which quoted Interpublic CEO Michael Roth reflecting on diversity: “While he lauded the progress made in increasing the number of women in leadership, he said there needs to be more of an effort to improve the representation of African-American women. Just 1 per cent of female agency leaders are black women. ‘That’s insane given who the marketplace is.’”

It’s not just the agencies. Brands are also adapting and creating stories in their advertising and communications that include a wider, more diverse audience in a truly authentic way. The results have won awards and are genuinely impactful – no tokenism here.

The result is that through these stories and images, our media is now representing society more fully and this is an important next step given the role that it plays in shaping attitudes.

The potential for change is very exciting.

And of course, there is a ‘but’.

The journey a business needs to take to change its culture to become truly diverse and inclusive is tougher than either making speeches or creating ads that feature a wider spectrum of society as they truly are.

Becoming a diverse and inclusive business almost always means fundamental change. It’s not about getting a team of consultants in who create a report. It’s not about having training programmes and workshops.

The type of programmes that GDP implements are focused on helping companies to see the real barriers to diversity and inclusion in their business. Some of these are “hard” factors: systems, policies, processes, work requirements. Others are “soft” factors around behaviours, attitudes, and beliefs.

The process that is required to confront and make the commitment to change can be challenging and requires a large personal as well as corporate commitment – I describe it as a “cold shower”. It can be unpleasant, uncomfortable and painful depending on many factors including the outlook of the people involved.

Support is essential to make this process vital. Imagine the effort and commitment required to double the percentage of black agency leaders from just a meager one to two per cent. No company or sector can do this alone: help and nurture are essential to make it happen, as well as leadership.

Or as we like to call it at GDP, the comforting “warm bath” after the shock of the “cold shower”.

The “warm bath” is designed to make the process of becoming a diverse and inclusive company as easy as possible for organisations. Otherwise, there is the risk that it just won’t happen. That other priorities will take over and nothing will change, despite the speeches and the good intentions.

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