Unless Inclusion Is Prioritized by Adland, People Like My Daughter Will Shun It

Debbie Ellison headshot

Eight years ago, when my super-smart daughter (we all think that about our kids, right?) wrote her undergraduate thesis on “The power of consumerism: advertising in 1920s America”. I tried to convince her to join our industry when she graduated. She looked at me quizzically, “Why would I join? There are no black people there.” 

Today in the UK, 10 million people are black, Asian, and from other ethnic minorities (16% of the population), which is predicted to more than double by 2050. An estimated 1.4 million people also identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual (2.7% of the population).

Inclusion transformation is now a business imperative for brands and businesses who want to be an employer and brand of choice. 

Transformation drives progress across all parts of an organisation

Ninety per cent of Fortune 500 companies have ERG (employee resource group) programmes in place, connecting groups of people based on shared characteristics or life experiences. Often, these groups are leaned on to provide all the answers to systemic inequality and belonging challenges in the workplace. That can’t be. Often, ERGs don’t have the autonomy to lead and drive real change through the business.

Chief executives need to invest in DE&I business transformation frameworks to audit and map existing programmes and initiatives, identify gaps in effort and white spaces to grow, with clear resolution measures, and hold every part of the organisation accountable for progress.

Today the speed needed for change is debilitating for businesses. And the only way to solve it is by ensuring all teams, from C-suite to business, HR, diversity, marketing – even PR teams – are clear on transformation goals and KPIs.

If you are still unsure, a recent report showed businesses that took practical steps towards achieving genuine equity recorded 58% higher revenue than those that did not, and more inclusive workplaces resulted in a 56% increase in job performance. 

Inclusivity drives business creativity

Theme two of the Cannes Lions Festival this year was Represent the Under Represented. For businesses to be future-fit, they must create personalized and culturally relevant experiences that connect with a broader range of people and communities – now, not later. Our industry has a huge role to play here.

We need to look candidly at what we are creating. Research projects, such as Bias & Inclusion in Advertising by the Geena Davis Institute and Cannes Lions, should be shared and studied in every strategy and creative department. They published updated research last month, which showed how much work is left.  

To create work that works, we need to draw on lived experiences, which can’t be faked. Creating an environment of belonging, equality and equity in our industry needs to be a mandate, manifesting in the diversity of teams crafting creative solutions. 

No 7 recently launched a retinol product range designed for the diverse range of customers it serves and supported by a beautiful campaign by The Pharm called "We see you". But before the external launch, it had transformed the brand’s approach to inclusion: overhauling product testing, increasing the diversity of its consumer panels by 121% and funding diversity training and accreditation for 1,600 beauty advisors.

Here’s where agencies and brands should take note. Beyond creating an inclusive piece of communication, we should be looking to help our clients authentically back up the commitments our work promises with true business transformation. 

No time for rest

C-suite leaders need to spearhead the transformation of their organisation and equip teams with a DE&I framework geared to make their work and businesses more inclusive and successful.  

They must audit, measure and plan for all parts of their business, from employee experience, corporate communications, tools, systems and methods, recruitment, retention, data, policies and professional development.

Not creating spaces where women, black and brown, LGBTQIA+, neurodiverse and disabled communities can thrive will mean much sought-after talent will find other companies to be part of. In fact, 49% of Gen Z will work for a purpose-driven company for a 20% lower salary on average. 

If you aren’t taking this seriously, chances are in the time it took to read this article, more people like my daughter will decide your industry isn’t right for them.

Debbie Ellison is Global Chief Digital Officer at VMLY&R COMMERCE

Originally published in Campaign