In Campaign Asia-Pacific’s fourth annual Diversity Study in partnership with Kantar, it’s clear that things are not where they’re supposed to be. In fact, the industry is still miles away from an ideal scenario where staff feel equally recognised, safe, and properly supported. If anything, this year’s results are a cry for help. And if these pleas are not attended to, the industry risks poor business performance and depreciating staff retention.
For this study, 345 working adults in the media and marketing industry from across 18 countries across APAC participated anonymously. Responses were collected between July and August 2020, so some statistics may take into account the effects of the ongoing global pandemic. The results of this study was originally presented during a live webinar today (September 24), which was streamed on Facebook.
The number of people who say that men and women are treated equally in their organisation has dropped to 48% in 2020 compared with 68% in 2017. And almost half (47%) of people say that men are more respected by top management, a figure that has doubled since 2017 (28%). This is also worse in India, where more than half feel that men are more respected (58%).
As saddening as these numbers are, they could also mean a greater awareness of the issue rather an indication of a greater bias. This goes hand-in-hand with 77% of respondents being more empowered to speak up about sexual harassment in the workplace compared with 70% in 2019. Instances of sexual innuendo have also decreased significantly from 34% to 12%.
But should gender-related issues—which also permeate life outside of marketing and media—be addressed at an organisational level or outside the industry as well? Kevin Zhang, chief human resources officer, APAC, at Havas Group, said, “What we really need to do is work together to tackle this problem. Our industry should work with businesses, government bodies, schools and universities, and NGOs.”
Perhaps race has always been top-of-mind for the industry in APAC, but it’s been brought to the forefront this year with the aid of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and global conversations.
Forty-three percent of people believe that they are judged by race (up 20% from 2017) and more than a quarter (26%) feel that respect from top management is based on their race rather than what they do. A prevailing view across the region was that people feel that they are overlooked because their viewpoint doesn’t tie with the “white-dominated business world”.
HAVE YOUR SAY
Erica Kerner, board chairman for Singapore and Southeast Asia with The Marketing Society, has hope that things are changing. “In the last six to eight months leading to the pandemic, especially in Singapore, there’s been a lot of consolidation in agencies where a lot of those [white] leaders aren’t there anymore. So I do feel like there’s a change happening,” she said.
“I do think that this issue is put on race, but it’s actually sometimes the most political operator. To be successful in your company, you have to know how to work with the leaders, how to get into that position. And sometimes, it’s because you went to the same schools, and sometimes it’s just about learning that savviness. So my hope is that things are changing and it’s not just based on race and where you went to school or who your friends are or how well you play golf. I am hopeful that it’s changing.”
The issue of race in APAC is complicated because racial dynamics and histories vary from country to country, and it’s impossible (and frankly damaging) to paint a broad brush about racial privileges without understanding those local nuances. However, survey results show that race is an issue in multi-racial societies such as Singapore.
Overall, one quarter of people (21%) said that they had witnessed degrading comments towards others based on their race, and 10% had experienced it themselves.
Kerner also rightfully pointed out that it’s important for us to acknowledge that #BlackLivesMatter and the anti-racism movement are two different things. Struggles for black people and other POC are vastly different, and should not be lumped into one issue.
On the brand side, Kerner said brands and organisations don’t have to publicly advertise or broadcast their anti-racism causes, but internally, they should be supporting staff and action points need to be a part of the corporate governance of those brands.
The pandemic has taken a severe toll on employees’ mental health, with more than half feeling very stressed at work (57%) and finding it challenging to manage stress in their lives (40%). This is not limited to psychological impact as 46% say work has impacted their physical health negatively, causing them to lose sleep and feeling more lethargic (55%).
On top of that, asking for help and recognising a problem in the first place is often stigmatised in Asia. And because of the pandemic, work-from-home polices could mean more staff suffering in silence.
“One of the things that I am more conscious of now as a leader is making sure that I am actively checking in on my teams,” said Kerner. “When you see them in them in the office, you might get an inkling that something was wrong, but in these times, you don’t know. Even for myself, there are days where you don’t have the energy and can’t give 100%, but I think twice about taking the day off because you don’t want to seem like you’re struggling.”
So what does mental health have to do with D&I, you ask? Well, employees from diverse backgrounds can face lack of representation, microaggressions, unconscious bias, and other stressors that impact their mental health and psychological safety at work. Plus, the gender and racial disparity at the workplace have made it even more stressful for some, especially for those who say they do not receive the same level of respect from top management, due to their gender (64%) or race (57%). It doesn’t help that the pandemic has exacerbated D&I efforts in workplaces.
This data highlights the importance of intersectionality when talking about D&I. There is no one-size-fits-all solutions for every organisation; and simply ticking a few boxes won’t tackle these issues at the root.
“There should be a burden on companies—especially in these uncertain times—to be looking at their policies and making sure how we go back to work is the right way,” said Kerner.
Zhang said that employee assistance programmes (EAP) for staff’s mental health should be a norm in this region, the way they are in the US and in Europe. He added: “We need to talk to our employees a lot more at this time, and to let them know that it’s okay to ask for help.”
How do we move forward?
It’s well-known information by now that D&I is not just the right thing to do; it makes business sense too. There’s enough evidence to show that companies who invest in a diverse and inclusive talent pool are in a better position to recover faster and stronger from a crisis, and companies that deploy a systematic approach to diversity and inclusion and don’t fear bold action to foster inclusion are most likely to reap the rewards.
If the results show that awareness is apparent, the industry has a responsibility to push the needle hereon. Results from the survey show that 90% of those who attended unconscious bias training said it was useful. But why doesn’t it seem to change behaviours that are entrenched within the industry?
Very few people were aware of how their organisations were walking the diversity talk. Two in five say they have a diversity and inclusion leader, fewer than a third (30%) say that funds have been allocated towards equality programmes, and only 14% say their business has completed a pay parity review.
The report outlines three steps for organisations to ensure concrete change. Trezelene Chan, managing director at Kantar, said, “It is important for us to move from awareness to systematically embedding diversity and inclusion within an organisation. It has to be ingrained in an organisation’s culture; it cannot be just a specific group of people driving it within the company. It has to permeate across divisions.”
Chan’s words are spot-on. And if agency leaders don’t urgently take action and effectively measure progress, the industry at large will begin to lose its biggest asset—its people.