Hannah Campbell
Apr 4, 2023

Why diversity initiatives are a load of BS

The industry likes to embrace diversity, but most D&I schemes lack effectiveness and can be counterproductive.

Why diversity initiatives are a load of BS

One evening during my first year of university, I upset a lot of people.  I was at a social gathering with a group of predominantly black students. 

We were drinking and putting the world to rights when the topic of diversity came up in the context of employment and jobs. I boldly declared: “I don’t believe in positive discrimination, I’d hate to think I got the job due to ticking an ethnicity or gender box rather than the fact that I was the best candidate for the job.”

To my horror the room went silent and then in unison everyone started shouting at me. Ten months later, I left.

That evening was an early lesson for me on my privilege and how it shapes my views of the world. As a privately-educated young woman, with a non-foreign sounding name who excelled academically, I was used to achieving based on merit and hard work.

So therefore, I just didn’t see the difficulties of other young black people who were less privileged than me.

In fact, we all have privilege and we all need to understand that not everyone has had the same privileges. This can shape our views and mean that we have blind spots when it comes to other people.

Trying to get it right can be uncomfortable, but getting rid of the blind spots is important work.

So, why is this relevant? Most people in the creative industries are sold on diversity and inclusion, right?

We know it boosts creativity, it means companies can attract and retain the best talent, it’s great for profit and it makes things more interesting.

But that’s the thing, I don’t believe most diversity schemes are effective. I believe in their aim; I believe businesses create and roll out these schemes to do good. 

I also know from my own lived experience that there is a real problem with them because they are simply not doing enough. And sometimes they can be depressingly counterproductive.

I worked for an agency that was, on paper really diverse, with a black woman and an Asian woman in the senior team and lots of diverse junior staff. But not one of us was ever given the room to lead on the creative or to input our ideas on pitches or with clients.

According to a recent Media for All study, over half of black, Asian and global majority ethnic professionals are experiencing discrimination in the industry and 85% of the same group are likely to leave the industry due to lack of inclusion.

The survey found that senior white men believed the most progress had been made since George Floyd’s death, but younger black women’s lived experiences say otherwise.

This is dangerous because it can mean that senior leaders believe the work has been done and they can move on, leaving those from diverse backgrounds to continue to be impacted and discriminated against. And that’s not even touching on the underrepresentation of disabled people and LGBTQ people.

At the same time, many brands leverage different cultures, groups, spaces and themes to get their messaging across. Chivas Regal leverages rap culture and black-originated music, Havana Club leverages popular West African culture and music and Absolut does a lot with LGBTQ communities. 

I cannot stress enough that if brands want to do this, it has to be authentic. I am the first to admit that that word is overused in advertising, but I can’t think of a better way to put it. 

Authentic means to be genuine, to not be a copy. However, how can brands run these campaigns authentically, if they don’t come from and have a deep understanding of the groups they are leveraging and targeting?

Accurate representation is important across all groups including by age and sexual orientation and the benefits of getting this right are endless – authenticity, credibility, brand affinity, brand consideration – all of which translates into profit.

But getting this wrong could be disastrous – some brands are too scared to touch diverse campaigns and lose out on sales/ROI and new customers.

So, here are four top tips that should help you do away with the diversity BS:

If your teams do not have the lived experience, interest, passion etc that is being represented in a campaign, leave it alone, bring in a specialist agency to partner on the project with, or at the very least hire a freelance consultant to help.  

Don’t use language or slang that you do not completely and contextually understand. For example, the term ‘soft life’. You might have heard of it. It comes from Nigerian women and was made popular online. The number of brands who have jumped on the bandwagon and got it wrong is embarrassingly large.

Although I don’t think most D&I initiatives are doing enough, if you have one, ensure they are working for the people that they are there to serve. Check in that the young Black woman in your team actually feels included and has a chance to share her creative ideas. Check in with that young gay man, that he can share his lived experience and be represented in campaigns. Talk regularly to the disabled team member and make sure that they feel included and can share their experiences.  

Include diverse representation in campaigns even if the brief does not specify it. 

It would be amazing to see adverts that are nationally representative of the population as per the stats – this includes disability, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and neurodiversity. 

And no, just having couples of different races really isn’t enough. 

Hannah Campbell is co-founder and managing director of One Twelve Agency

Campaign UK

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