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JANUARY 11, 2021 //     

Building a diverse and inclusive workplace

By Jim Selman 

When the history books on the year 2020 are finalised, it will certainly be an annual for the ages.  The unfathomable level of hardship and challenge on the mental, physical, and social aspects of our lives has been extraordinary and has not yet subsided.  At the same time, the very best of human nature can seize this opportunity to be better and to improve the lives of future generations.

The current discourse around social justice is a historic opportunity to create real permanent change, and as business leaders we have a moral responsibility to build diverse organisations where everyone feels empowered to bring their whole self to work.  We can also now recite the well-known McKinsey statistic that ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform the competition.

But the challenge is still significant. The updated 2020 Parker Review earlier this year left a stark reminder.  Out of the 256 companies with meaningful data, almost 60% had yet to appoint a board director from a BAME background.  A similar report by the recruitment consultancy Green Park in 2019 found that the number of BAME board members decreased to 7.4% from 2018’s 9%.  Within our own industry the picture is equally challenging, as only 9% of colleagues come from a racially diverse background.  On the senior end of our industry, 87% of Chairmen and Managing Directors identify as White British.

As the tragic events around the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others lit the touchpaper for the global growth of the Black Lives Matter movement into the mainstream, we wanted to discuss what was happening and to explore the issue of prejudice as it manifests here in the UK.  We checked in with each other, discussing the issues, and sharing as much information, insight, and personal experience as possible.  Identity is intensely personal, intersectional, and nuanced.  The issues of prejudice are numerous, and they impact us on so many levels that we knew we needed to act.

Our discourse led to the identification of key challenges that we need to tackle to be better, and to evolve our organisation so that we can truly realise the transformative power of diversity and inclusion.  To deliver on this mission, we began to explore the following aspects of our business:

How we communicate: Evolve how we communicate internally to ensure we respect and empower identity.  Create regular, challenging conversations, explore the topics that enrich us and strengthen our professional relationships, from quarterly discussion groups and external speakers to weekly newsletters, essays and personal accounts. We are also improving our approach to external communications to better convey our agency approach to DE+I and encourage like-minded professionals to come and join our organisation. 

Making us more representative: Pivot our approach to hiring to ensure we can field a more diverse set of candidates and manage an evolved interview process to ensure each candidate has an equal opportunity to succeed.  We have updated our onboarding programme to ensure all new hires feel empowered to bring their whole self to work, and from the first day, build out our career development programmes to help equip tomorrow’s leaders for long-term careers in our organisation. 

Building an ecosystem of like-minded partners:  Work closely to develop long-term partnerships with like-minded groups, dedicated to diversity and inclusion.  We have already been privileged to create a community around our organisation with others from the non-profit sector, training companies, academic institutions, and pre-competitive relationships in the private sector. Developing this ecosystem of relationships is key to supporting new talent, our colleagues and driving the cultural and social change that is so clearly needed.

Developing advisory capabilities for our clients: Develop capabilities, tools, data and insight to support our clients and the work we do to ensure it sets the very highest bar for diversity.  This includes everything from our upstream work on marketing strategy and planning, to identifying diverse voices in the media and influencer space, the work of our industry leading measurement and analytics team, and our new creative review board that assesses ideas to ensure that our work is as diverse and inclusive as possible.

Our work so far gives us confidence for what lies ahead but there is a huge amount to be done.  As a group of marketers and communicators, we are committed to real change in our organisation and a future where a diverse and inclusive workplace is the norm, rather than the exception. 

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