Sally Henderson
Powerful change from the inside out




Tackling the diversity crisis

With the launch of The Great British Diversity Experiment, let’s explore the issue of diversity within the creative sector, looking at the problems we face, and what leaders could do to improve the situation.

The truth is, we live in one of the most diverse countries in the world, and yet the creative sector is failing itself financially and socially through its inherent lack of diversity.

A recent report from the The Creative Industries Federation highlighted that the percentage of women employed in the creative industries is already under-representative. But even worse, it is actually on the decline, from 37.1% in 2013 to 36.7% in 2014.

 However, the question of diversity is much more broad than gender alone. It extends to sexuality, religion and race, as much as it is about flexibility for parents and accessibility for disabled people.

 The business case for diversity is clear. Research from McKinsey proves that diverse businesses deliver 35% better results than their less diverse counterparts. Add to that the ambitious plans of the Creative Industries Council, which has made its mission to “cement the UK’s place as a world leader for the creative industries” and it is clear that something needs to change.

Diversity isn’t an issue for the creative sector alone, but it is arguably more significant. The problem is, success in our sector entirely depends upon our ability to reach an audience with a message. To change hearts and minds with our creativity. But we are creatures of habit, formed of our own personal experiences, so if our organisations are dominated by white males, how can we possibly communicate the desires of a society that is not?

 Put simply, success within the creative sector depends on how well the creative sector reflects society as a whole. As Nadya Powell, co-founder of The Great British Diversity Experiment, explains, “As long as we only have a small section of our society involved in creating the work, we’ll never break out from the same ideas, the same kinds of work and the same ways of talking to people.”

So, what’s stopping us?

Sally Henderson, put this question to Wolff Ollins CEO, Ije Nwokorie on behalf of Token Man. He suggested that one reason the sector doesn’t seem to attract many people from minority groups is the industry’s attempt to remain an "other" as opposed to core and at the heart of society. This “other-ness” could make the industry less desirable for groups of highly ambitious young people who aspire to play central roles in their communities. These groups likely see the sector as a ‘frivolity’ that is the domain of rich kids from privileged backgrounds. It is possible that we simply aren’t doing enough to help minority groups see the creative sector as a viable option.

In addition, we still describe strong leadership in ways that feel inherently masculine. A great leader is thought to be fearless, powerful and ruled by the head not the heart. Women within the industry still feel compelled to answer to this description, which ironically leads to them leaving behind the things that would actually make them great leaders.

 We need to start re-describing leadership in more broad terms. A leader who is thoughtful, reflective and considered is likely to be more perceptive, which in turn could open up opportunities that wouldn’t have been noticed by a more bullish counter-part.

 Adaptability is also an issue, especially for parents who require more flexible working hours and practices. If you are in the habit of having a weekly 8am briefing, or discussing a client brief over a glass of wine after-work, you are alienating parents, albeit unconsciously.

What can you do about it?

-        Surround yourself with people who are very different to you. That means in race, gender, age, beliefs and in any other way you can think of. If all you do is hire in your own image, how can you expect your senior managers to do any different? When it comes to breaking that cycle, the buck firmly stops and starts with you as leader.

-        Ban unpaid internships. In the majority of cases, an unpaid internship is something that only the privileged few can afford to undertake.

-        Likewise, ban early or late meetings that preclude the flexibility that parents need.

-        Hire the best person for the team, not the best person for the role. This is best explained by Daniele Fiandaca in his excellent post on, “Diversity at Work: hiring the best person for the job isn’t enough

-        As a leader, be outspoken and proactive on the subject of diversity. Not talking about it, does not mean you are agnostic in your approach to it. You have to be constantly analysing your internal data to get a true picture, and then proactively address any issues and shortfalls you discover.

The Great British Diversity Experiment has been designed by a team of creative directors with one shared goal: to convince creative agencies that they need to change their hiring policies and become more diverse. Read more here.

sally henderson