‘Diverse’ is one of the most commonly used words to describe the Asia-Pacific region, encompassing the vast range of geographies, cultures, politics and paces of development here.
Workplaces in Asia-Pacific, however, have historically been relatively slow to adopt proper diversity practices that protect employees from discrimination on grounds of ethnicity, gender, physical ability or sexuality.
As late as 2004, there were no laws about diversity in the workplace in the region at all, apart from in Australia. Global multinational headquarters in Europe or elsewhere would pass down directives, but these were rarely adopted in local markets.
Times have changed. A shortage of talent due to ageing populations and, in some countries such as Myanmar, Vietnam and Japan, faster growing female populations, kickstarted a need for employers to diversify their workforces. Research firms like McKinsey have in more recent times been able to prove that more inclusive teams generate better business results, incentivising employers further. Social media, meanwhile, has given all employees a more powerful voice with which to call out discrimination: no company wants to be on the receiving end of people-backed campaigns that have the potential to grow into global movements, like the #MeToo phenomenon of 2017.
The marcomms industry has also become more engaged with the subject of diversity through its work, with an increasing trend for brands to want to address social issues in their campaigns in the hope of reaching consumers by championing causes they care about. Think of ANZ Bank’s ‘GAYTM’ campaign of 2014, which still continues today, or Dentsu and Yahoo Japan’s ‘blind-friendly election website’ from 2017.
In the industry itself, however, it seems that challenges remain. Campaign Asia Pacific’s ‘Mandate for Change’, launched in March 2017, called on six leading agency networks to address the gender imbalance in their companies, particularly at senior levels. 18 months on we’ve seen that real change is occurring with some exciting new initiatives and projects taking place, but shifting mindsets may take much longer.
Further investigations by Campaign have also revealed that the advertising industry, which for a long time has been stereotyped as a young person’s game, may have real ongoing problems with ageism: in a series last year we heard one agency staff member bluntly admit that ‘when people get older, we tend to push them out’. And following a recent interview with Delmus Credle, former head of planning at BBDO China, we discovered that issues around ethnicity and sexuality, and how sensitively these subjects are tackled in workplaces, still sparks passionate debate in this part of the world.
It seems we still have a long way to go before the Asian marcomms industry becomes truly diverse.