Opening the door to diversity

Posted 14 March 2018.

By Kim Pick, Creative Director Colenso BBDO.

​In March, when New Zealand snaps a national selfie with the five-yearly Census, we’ll get an official picture of what our society looks like today. And we’ll be able to see how Adland compares.

New Zealand, we know, will be more diverse than ever. Especially in Auckland, which is already noted as one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities, with more than 200 ethnic groups, 160 languages and almost 50% of the population non-European.

Adland, even though much of it is centred in that same city, looks a bit different.

Last year, when the Commercial Communications Council (CCC) held a diversity and inclusiveness survey to better understand the industry, it showed that it was predominantly European/Pakeha: 87% overall and overwhelmingly so in senior leadership. Although 90% of those surveyed saw diversity as a benefit to the workplace.

Despite being one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups, people of Asian ethnicity accounted for 10% of those surveyed. Pasifika people represented just 3% (versus 6% of the working age population), while Māori were the most under-represented, accounting for 4% versus 13% in the working age population.

And while women made up the majority in terms of numbers overall, they were in the minority when it came to management and creative departments, where very few women hold senior leadership positions.

The benefits of diversity – gender, cultural, ethnic, age and socio-economic diversity – are well-documented and include delivering creative advantage, greater innovation, improved decision-making and higher commercial returns. Diverse teams have been shown to discover problems faster, and their solutions are ultimately found to be of higher quality, more innovative and unexpected.

As an industry that’s in the business of creating breakthrough, business-transforming ideas, we miss out on a wealth of fresh thinking and innovative, creative talent when we draw from the same homogenous pool.

What’s more, failure to develop deep-seated cultural intelligence in our organisations makes us vulnerable to knowledge gaps and cultural blind spots, and we risk becoming disconnected from the very New Zealanders our brands are looking to connect and communicate with.

In advertising and communications industries across the world, similar concerns are echoed. In the US, Nancy Hill, former CEO of the 4As said: “We are an industry that both influences and is influenced by the culture of our society. Simply reflecting one ethnic group isn’t good enough.”

D&AD CEO Tim Lindsay, speaking to the Rare Sydney diversity masterclass in November, agreed: “As our business becomes more homogenised… we serve our clients less well and produce more homogenised thinking and solutions. So, for the future of the business, we all have to do something to put this right.”

‘Putting this right’ won’t happen overnight, especially in an industry experiencing accelerated cultural and technological change, and under pressure from compressed budgets and deadlines and increased working hours. “We’re working twice as hard for half the money and the pressure is really on,” says Lindsay. “Which makes changing the rules, making the space, creating the impetus for change that much more challenging… (but) it makes getting this right even more important.”

Change is underway. The CCC, discovering that less than a quarter of the people surveyed were aware of diversity policies or programmes in their own organisation, has now set a target for all its members to have a best-practice, action-based and measurable diversity and inclusion policy in place by the end of 2018. It is engaging industry HR leaders and providing practical support through workshops to help achieve this.

It’s also focused on developing a more diverse talent pool by fostering alternative pathways into the industry and engaging at high school as well as tertiary level.

At Clemenger Group, a programme introduced two years ago focusing on gender diversity has seen positive results. A target of at least 40% women in senior management positions by 2020 has been exceeded early. Flexible working practices are being trialled, increased parental leave benefits offered and training rolled out to maintain momentum. But there is still work to do and the focus has widened to include diversity in all its forms and how to address more of the lopsided demographics.

The New Zealand communications industry, already highly competitive on the global stage, can only be better for the creative and innovative advantage this can bring.

Let’s hope our next selfie gives us reason to smile.

Kim Pick is a member of the CCC Diversity and Inclusiveness Council, as well as the Clemenger Group diversity panel.