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How can we improve socioeconomic diversity in agencies?

31 Aug 11:00 by Tony Allen

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When it comes to the diversity challenges facing marketing and creative agencies, social diversity doesn’t receive the same attention as that of gender and ethnicity. However, in the face of industry talent shortages, and concern that entry-level marketers are increasingly favouring in-house positions with giants such as Google and Facebook, overlooking this issue is not only a mistake but a missed opportunity for agencies. 

Research continues to tell us that diverse teams perform better, particularly when it comes to creativity and providing a broader audience perspective, in turn increasing the chances of an agency’s output resonating with a broad range of customers.

A study carried out by Goldsmiths and the London School of Economics found that people from a working-class background should account for 35% of the creative workforce (when compared with the average for other industries). However, only 18% of the total workforce comes from a working-class background.

What’s going wrong?

Unlike the promotion of gender and ethnic equality, it’s much more difficult to identify whether unconscious bias has been displayed when it comes to a candidate’s social background. And, as agency workers have traditionally been primarily judged on ability, rather than accent, postcode or education, it’s hard to believe such a bias would exist.

According to the aforementioned study, the problem starts at a much earlier stage. Schools, particularly those in working-class areas, are failing to acknowledge the creative sector as a potential career option for pupils. What makes this especially head-scratching is that the creative industry forms a vital part of the government’s vision for a future economy.

What’s being done about it?

The Marketing Academy Foundation was launched in 2016 with the aim of addressing this social under-representation. The charity funds marketing apprenticeships for people from disadvantaged backgrounds and increases awareness of marketing as an option among people who wouldn’t be likely to consider it. Its CEO Daryl Fielding stated plans to place 100 apprentices by May 2022, with brands such as Virgin Atlantic, BT and Facebook already signed up. In addition to apprenticeships, the foundation works to raise awareness among school-age children from working-class areas about marketing as a career choice.

Creative agency Atomic London last year announced its ‘Canvey not Cannes’ initiative which saw its executives visiting schools in a working-class area of the Essex town to talk about what they do in advertising and how pupils can pursue a position in this field. Not only that, but the agency’s inaugural event featured guests speakers from Google and MPC to provide added inspiration for jobs in creative tech and visual effects.

This initiative from Atomic London shows how agencies can get involved in the wider marketing community to help tackle the lack of social diversity in the industry. As well as outreach into schools and communities in working-class areas, here are some other ways that agencies can embrace socioeconomic diversity.

- Paid apprenticeships and work experience. If you don’t already pay for trainee talent then, sorry, but you’re contributing to the lack of social diversity. Think outside of the box when it comes to payment too. For example, if your agency is based in central London perhaps offer accommodation for work experience assignments to attract people from outside of the city.

- Treat work experience placements like job positions. Agency owner’s and client’s children take up a disproportionate amount of positions in a lot of agencies. Instead of nepotistic appointments, put a real recruitment process in place where you look through CVs and interview people, appointing them based on merit.

- Data. Start addressing any potential issues by collecting data on the backgrounds of your employees. This will allow you to set targets for future recruitment.

-Shift your focus. Instead of insisting everyone has to be degree-educated, create placements and apprenticeships that are focused on on-the-job training.

If you’re looking to attract the right balance of talent for your agency, or you’re ready to take the next step in your career, Henry Nicholas can help.