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The business case for diversity (or, why I am now talking to white marketers about race)

In her book, Reni Eddo-Lodge exhorted white people to, “talk to other white people about race”. The latest


from Marketing Week (under the heading of, “Marketing’s diversity problem,”) suggest that 88% of those working in marketing are white. That is a missed opportunity for our industry – at best. So, let’s have that conversation.

The Marketing Week salary survey revealed that only 2% of those in our industry identified as black, with a further 4% identifying as mixed race and 5% as Asian. In an industry like ours which likes to think of itself as inclusive, this prompted a lot of hand-wringing. But, to be honest, I’d be surprised if our stats were any different from those for any other profession. Speaking bluntly, the marketing industry is simply no better/just as bad as any other when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

The question is, do we want to do anything about it?

Working at a previous agency, the marketing director put out a call for blog ideas: I put forward a precis very similar to the blog you are reading. The MD approached me a few days later and said, ‘Look around you’ – meaning, look at the sea of white faces in the office. The point of view was simply, ‘Why raise the problem if we are not the exception but the rule.’ I never got to write that blog.

Enigma is the norm – our diversity stats are pretty much exactly those in the Marketing Week survey. But we’d like to be part of the solution. This is not because it is the right thing to do (although it unquestionably is). Nor is it because BME people deserve to be compensated for (in Eddo-Lodge’s words) lacking the white skin that would give them a leg-up in this society (although that is undoubtedly true). It is because it is in our interests to do so. Here’s why.

1. How do you market to people you don’t understand?

As marketers, we pride ourselves on understanding the audience we are trying to reach. We conduct surveys and focus groups to understand their drivers and emotions. More straightforwardly, we could try employing people from these different groups. A 2013 Harvard Business Review affirms that when at least one team member shares a client’s ethnicity, the team is more than twice as likely to understand that client’s needs than teams where no member shares that trait. We will all be more effective marketers if our employees better represent the communities we are trying to reach.

2. Creative tension

I’d now like to talk about Hegelian dialectic. Bear with me.

According to Wikipedia, dialectic comprises three stages of development: first, the thesis, a statement of an idea; second, the antithesis, a reaction that contradicts or negates the thesis; and third, the synthesis, a statement through which the differences between the two points are resolved. For me, this is a great model for the creative process: someone has an idea, someone else challenges that notion (or builds upon it) and the resulting synthesis is (hopefully) a great campaign.

But, if the two protagonists are both middle-aged white guys (like me – I’m not dismissing the genre), then the chances are that their background, outlook and perspective are likely to be similar, the difference between the thesis and counter-thesis less marked, and the synthesis less rich.

As Forbes explained in a recent article, “A sense of complacency and sameness in thinking is more likely in homogeneous teams than in diverse teams. Differences among team members force each person to anticipate that there will be alternative and unexpected viewpoints to consider and evaluate.” In other words, the more diversity you can bring to this process, the more likely you are to have a creatively successful outcome.

Diversity breeds innovation and improved financial performance

If my previous assertion is true – that diversity encourages creativity – then one might reasonably expect more diverse organisations to be more innovative. And, in fact, there is a boatload of research that overwhelmingly confirms this to be true.

A recent Forbes article entitled, ‘Diversity Confirmed to Boost Innovation and Financial Results’ nails it for me.  It states that, “Diverse teams are better positioned to unlock innovation that drives market growth. Diversity further enables nonlinear novel thinking and adaptability that innovation requires. Moreover, those companies with the highest levels of digital investment exhibited the strongest link between diversity and innovation revenue.” And this is as true for


as it is for large companies.

However, there is one proviso. Diversity has to exist across all levels of an organisation, not just in the junior ranks. BCG confirmed that diverse management teams were more innovative than less diverse teams after surveying 1700 companies of varying sizes and differing country locations. The Harvard Business Review reported that EBIT margins for companies with diverse management teams were nearly 10% higher than for companies with below-average management diversity.

Redefining possible

I grew up in the punk era. The really exciting thing about the Sex Pistols was not the music or the attitude or the swearing (although that was exhilarating): it was that a bunch of working-class kids with no musical background picked up some instruments and started a band. Thousands of people from across the racial spectrum followed their example: the Pistols had re-defined the nature of what young working-class kids believed to be possible. That’s what role models do.

And it seems to me that there are not enough BME role models in marketing. Googling BME marketers brings up lots of advice on how to market to that community but little information about individuals of colour in that industry. Looking at our industry publications, The Drum has a strong track record of covering diversity issues but has only recently started to give airtime to BME spokespersons; and Tanya Joseph has written regular columns for Marketing week for several years. But I don’t think it would be unfair to say that there are too few BME voices gathering around our water cooler: if the BME community ever look at the marketing industry, they don’t see people like them looking back.

That’s why I support the recent launch of


, an organisation comprising members and advisors from a variety of backgrounds that ‘have each made a personal commitment to help with targeted messaging to young people about careers in our sector.’ Its aims are ‘to have 20% of the young talent that enters our industry each year to come from BAME backgrounds’ and to have ‘20% of leadership roles represented by BAME talent’.

Both of these goals are spot on. Its focus on bringing in young talent is essential as people of colour are not currently lining up to be admitted to the club we have created. (Enigma recently advertised account management opportunities and received several hundred responses: almost none of them were from BME communities.) There’s no point addressing the issues of demand if there is no available supply of talent. And, as we heard earlier, the real benefits of diversity accrue at the point where diversity becomes inclusion – when people not only get a ticket to the party but are actually invited to dance. And the sad fact is that diversity at leadership levels in the UK has



How’re you doing?

All marketing organisations – in-house or agency – should be doing something similar to BAME2020: engaging with BME communities and the schools in those areas, educating young people about the careers marketing can offer them; and mentoring them into the industry. Once there, strategies should be put in place for recognising and promoting that talent as it develops. Post-lockdown, Enigma is adapting its own diversity policies to our new socially-distanced world, but our overall aim is to help normalise the participation of BME people in our profession.

Some people might insist that proactive efforts to create a more diverse workforce are denying life opportunities to white people (when, in fact, there’s plenty of that to go around). It’s true that BME candidates would be the immediate beneficiaries of greater diversity; but the business case for diversity is so watertight – enhancing customer insight, creativity and innovation and improving financial performance – that, in the medium term, this creates greater opportunities for all of us.

So, the sooner we get started, the better.

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