A hoped-for improvement in people’s feelings of inclusion in the ad industry has failed to materialise, according to the follow-up to the World Federation of Advertisers’ 2021 global census on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
The inaugural census identified "major challenges" across the ad industry, which, judging by the fresh data, remain entrenched. Women do not feel any more included than two years ago and they, along with LGBQ+, ethnic minority and disabled respondents, still have worse experiences than their counterparts.
The WFA highlighted that one in four disabled people said they would leave the industry on the basis of a lack of DEI, as did one in five ethnic minority respondents, one in six women and one in six LGBQ+ respondents.
The industry’s inclusion index score — calculated by census researcher Kantar — dropped from 64% in 2021 to 63% in 2023.
The WFA said it was “not greatly surprised” by the results because “the challenges are so deep-rooted and systemic in society”, but it was encouraged by respondents’ high level of awareness of efforts to tackle those challenges.
“The first step is building awareness of the problem,” WFA chief executive Stephan Loerke said. “We may not have meaningfully moved the needle globally but industry efforts are increasingly visible. Now is the time to double down and stay the course because, ultimately, our efforts will be rewarded with more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces where the best talent will flock.”
In contrast to the inclusion index score, most respondents said that the industry had made improvements in terms of being more diverse and inclusive over the past two years. Asked whether they believed the company they worked for was actively taking steps to be more diverse and inclusive, 72% said yes compared with 60% in 2023. However, at a country level, this ranged from 87% in Canada to 49% in Japan.
There was a slight reduction in the number of people saying they would leave the industry on the basis of a lack of DEI, from 15% in 2021 to 14% in 2023. However, the WFA did not judge this to be significant progess.
The 2023 survey attracted almost 13,000 respondents across 91 countries, higher than the previous edition’s 10,300 respondents across 27 countries. There were noticeable increases in the proportions of women (from 58% in 2021 to 63% in 2023), disabled (from 7% to 10%) and LGBQ+ respondents (from 16% in 2021 to 19% in 2023). These changes did not affect the overall inclusion score, according to the WFA.
The UK was not involved because it ran its own “All In” Census, administered by Kantar, earlier this year. That survey was used as a model for much of the WFA’s work.
The initiative is supported by a coalition of 10 global marketing and advertising organisations – WFA, VoxComm, Campaign, Kantar, Advertising Week, Cannes Lions, Effie Worldwide, IAA, Global Web Index (GWI) and Adweek – as well as more than 160 organisations at a local level, making it the marketing industry’s single biggest collaboration to date. It is also backed by leading companies from across the marketing and advertising ecosystem, including Bayer, BP, Danone, Diageo, Dentsu, The Estée Lauder Companies, Haleon, Havas, KraftHeinz, L’Oréal, McCann, Meta, Philips, Reckitt, Sanofi and WPP.
The most common forms of discrimination reported are still around age, gender and family status. Two-fifths (41%) of women, 42% of parents and 39% of caregivers feel that family responsibilities hinder a person's career. One in 10 (12%) 18- to 24-year-olds and 17% of 55- to 64-year-olds said they personally experienced age discrimination compared with an overall global average of 8%.
One in six (16%) women, 17% of LGBQ+, 22% of ethnic minorities and 24% of disabled respondents said they are likely to leave the industry on the basis of a lack of DEI. Younger professionals (25-34 years) and caregivers are also slightly more likely to leave than the global average (18% vs 14%).
A third (36%) of women, who took parental leave in the past five years, thought it had put them at a disadvantage in their career compared with 8% of men.
Nearly half of respondents still feel that promotion or hiring decisions can be discriminatory, with only 55% agreeing with the statement: “Senior management do not discriminate when it comes to hiring or career advancements of those that report into them.” This drops to 52% for women, 51% for ethnic minorities, 49% for LGBQ+ and just 43% for disabled respondents.
Mental health is also an important concern, with 42% of respondents saying they felt stressed and anxious at work. This peaks in Italy at 52%, which, coincidentally, is also the market with the lowest percentage of respondents agreeing that their company is open about mental health issues (31%).
Advertising leaders said the results showed the industry needs to work harder to make progress on DEI issues.
Loerke said: “We should see this as glass half empty – and half full. We are not greatly surprised to see no measurable change across the global industry in just two years because the challenges are so deep rooted and systemic in society. They take time to address and overcome. But the first step is building awareness of the problem.
"We may not have meaningfully moved the needle globally but industry efforts are increasingly visible. Now is the time to double down and stay the course because ultimately our efforts will be rewarded with more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces where the best talent will flock.”
Tamara Daltroff, EACA chief executive and VoxComm president, added: “First, I want to thank to every single person who has contributed to the census. Thanks to you, we can see that progress is being acknowledged, which means we are going in the right direction.
"However, the ongoing discrimination faced by women, LGBQ+, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities shows that there is still a long way to go. These revealing figures are a vital opportunity for our industry – we must respond with purposeful action, weaving diversity and inclusion into the very heart of our organisations, to create a nurturing environment where each person is embraced, valued and empowered.”
Ed Gemmell, global corporate affairs director at Kantar, commented: “At its best, advertising can be a positive force for change, but we must live the values we ‘sell’. These results don’t illustrate the change we hope to see. As the WFA’s strategic partner for sustainability and inclusion and the home of The Inclusion Index, Kantar calls on the marketing community, once again, to move beyond rhetoric and take the positive steps needed to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for all our colleagues.”
Jessica MacDermot, global portfolio director at Haymarket Media Group, said: "The results of this most recent global DEI census show how vital this project continues to be. Without an ongoing concerted campaign to shine a light on this topic, we risk falling into the trap of thinking that progress (although maybe too slow) is somehow baked-in and inevitable. It simply isn't. Any progress is hard won and requires monumental levels of effort, year in, year out. Campaign continues to be proud of our association with this huge project. Thank you to WFA and all other partners.”
Ruth Mortimer, global president of Advertising Week, added: “As marketers, we have the power to make a difference by actively working towards creating a more equitable and inclusive world, and addressing critical issues. Let's transform concern into meaningful action and work together towards a brighter, more inclusive future.”
Frank Starling, vice-president of DEI at Cannes Lions, said: "This data reinforces the need for organisations to align DEI more closely to their business strategy. An industry underpinned by inclusive practice is possible if we work together and commit to consistent actions whilst holding ourselves accountable. We all want to see a fairer world without discrimination and, if we accelerate equitable outcomes for the historically marginalised, we can work towards achieving that objective."
Jason Mander, chief research officer at GWI, commented: “There’s not a lack of people recognising the importance of DEI in the industry, it’s about the level of action needed to really make a change. And this is something we see as a trend in global data for important topics that people clearly care deeply about, such as DEI and climate change. What’s challenging is converting that concern to the work and change needed across the industry and beyond to make a difference. And this includes each and every one of us adapting and being willing to take part in that change.”