The Results Of An Experiment In Diversity

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Late last year, I received an email from Daniele Fiandaca about an initiative he had helped devise called The Great British Diversity Experiment. Did I want to be part of it, and did I know anyone who might want to sponsor it.

Well, it’s fair to say that my experience of the advertising industry obviously hasn’t been the norm. I’ve worked alongside many senior women, plenty of people from different backgrounds and cultures. But then I’ve worked in digital. The more traditional aspects of the advertising industry are built around white, Oxbridge-educated men and they tend to hire people like them.

In recent times there have been great strides made to bridge the gender divide – biased though I am about this, the initiative Creative Equals founded by my friend Ali Hanan is a fantastic example – yet diversity isn’t just gender. Or race. Or sexuality.

That’s why true diversity is hard to achieve – and it’s well worth acknowledging that fact.

What I loved most about Daniele’s email was that someone was doing something rather than just sitting around and talking about it (which is what many other people were doing at the time). Taking action was something I could get behind. So I said yes to becoming a mentor, and through Formation London I also became a sponsor.

Without doubt, it’s the best thing I’ve done this year.

Yes, there were issues with some aspects of it. Yes, I’m sure it could, and will, be improved. However, being around and among a truly diverse bunch of people who just wanted to crack a really huge challenge for the fun of it (remember, no one was getting paid to do this) was inspiring, uplifting and life affirming. I’ve made connections and friendships out of it that it’s unlikely I’d have made had the GBDE team not gone out there and got this idea off the ground.

For that, I thank Daniele, Laura, Nadya, Jonathan, and Alex, as well as everyone else who pitched in for free, or gave a little bit of money to start making a real difference.

Any results?
Last night, about 250 people gathered at BBH London to hear the results of the ‘experiment’. The audience was extremely diverse in almost every area. There was free booze and soft drinks. And there was a report (which will be made public later on today, and I’ll update this once that’s available).

Rather than dive into the detail, the report threw up five key changes the industry needs to make. And make now. These are:

  1. Change the creative process
    Stop fixating on speed and ease and instead embrace the messiness that is creativity. It cracking a brief takes three days instead of one, that’s okay. Avoid the cultural consensus, embrace different. Everyone wins.
  1. Retrain leaders
    This isn’t about those at the coal face as much as it is about the people at the top. Because if it doesn’t happen there it just won’t happen. Once not understanding digital made you a dinosaur; not accepting diversity will create the next round of mass extinction.
  1. Implement the ‘Rooney Rule’
    Not Wayne, but Dan. This is a rule that exists in NFL to ensure senior positions are open to all. Go beyond the normal places you look for new hires. Work harder to ensure the process is open to all – rather than just ticking some HR box. In this way you’ll increase the amount of new connections – and therefore ideas – that will come out of your agency.
  1. Make attitudes accessible, not just buildings
    This is a huge point to make. Diversity done properly goes beyond conversations about gender or race. We need to embrace those who identify with having physical or mental limitations, to get their perspectives into our thinking. Anyone who says it won’t work needs to be reminded of this from Droga5

  1. Ensure your network is open to new tribes
    Diversity isn’t about tokenism. It’s not about being able to point to one black person, or making sure one person in the upper echelons of the agency is female. Being open to new experiences, new perspectives and different backgrounds will do wonders for your business.

Side note: This last one has particular relevance to me. Each year I go into a local school and run workshops to shows kids that, for a variety of reasons, wouldn’t even know that you can get a job for having ideas. We create services, ideas, adverts, etc, and they get to pitch them. It’s a start, but there is more that should, and could, be done. Code Club exists – can we get the industry to build Create Club in the same mould? I’d be up for that. Who’s with me?

In conclusion
The GBDE Report has a lot more detail on this. And I’m sure more will be written. This post is about what I took away from the initiative and what I heard last night. There are some simple, practical things that can be done now. Diversity Hacks was a short workshop that I’ve been part of twice now – this generates a whole host of different ways in which small changes can make big changes.

The thing is, it’s not that we have to start somewhere. We have to start now. This small experiment has proved it can work. Yes, it’s hard, but who wants easy challenges to crack?

As the team said last night, this isn’t the end of the experiment, it’s the beginning of a sea change. Let’s start taking action.

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