'Sharing movements' can be a diversity game-changer

Creating ‘sharing movements’ can be a diversity game-changer

The media industry is in a powerful position to champion diversity and inclusion. But it’s important to move beyond mentoring and into sponsorship.


It’s always been said that ‘word of mouth’ is the strongest form of marketing. There is just something about hearing an opinion from a trusted source that helps land a message and incite action, quite like no other. In fact, according to globally cited research conducted by Erica Chenoweth, if we can influence a mere 3.5% of people, we can change the course of the future.

Her work demonstrated that global uprisings from political upheavals to climate change activations, all stemmed from a small group of people whose voices were amplified far and wide.

So despite many believing that championing a change may be out of reach, evidence shows us something quite the contrary. It’s perhaps these findings where the famous Margaret Mead quote: “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has” gets its gusto.

The media Industry does, in fact, act as the ‘mouth piece’ and is a trusted source that has the ability to influence change. This is reinforced by research from Thinkbox that demonstrates that channels from TV, press, outdoor and digital all have the power to signal confidence, quality and financial strength.

So our platforms can and do act as the vehicle and voice to amplify a rallying cry in a way that resonates with our audiences (arguably far beyond even the 3.5%). But as they say, with great power, comes great responsibility, and we need to use it to full effect.

And herein lies the problem.

Our blind spot

Today, as an industry I do not believe we are firing with all our might. You see, change always starts from within and at the moment our ‘within’ is really struggling with a lack of diversity and inclusion flowing through our arteries, threatening our very lifeblood.

I believe that it’s causing a significant blind spot for us and making us more insular and ‘out of touch’ with our audiences.

For instance, Andrew Tenzer, director of marketing insight at Reach, cites that 69% of individuals working in advertising and marketing grew up in a household where the main income earners was a social grade ‘A’ or ‘B’ (the top brackets) compared to 29% of the UK population.

No big deal, eh? Think again. It’s this that creates a ‘disconnect’ between what we believe our audiences want and what they actually want, and its holding us back. Tenzer points to research, for example, that suggests that marketers believe 25% of the UK population want to be leaders in social change, when the actual figure is around 7%; a massive difference.

Furthermore, there also appears to be a huge opportunity cost for our lack of representation. Research from Clear called The Inclusion Gap, demonstrates that having more diverse representation in our communications drives greater customer loyalty as well as organisational value and growth.

There is both a moral and commercial imperative for us to work collectively to solve this. It’s simply in our own best interest whilst being in the best interest of the people we are here to serve. It’s a win-win if we get this right.

Taking inspiration from Chenoweth, it starts with being able to galvanise the 3.5% and then use the power of our platforms, channels and tools as media owners, to drive through change swiftly and irreversibly.

Shocking lack of apprentices

I believe we need to focus on three areas.

The first is to attract more diverse young talent to our industry, highlighting how their skills and thoughts will be valued and nurtured with, for example, appropriate learning opportunities.

Second, we need to be the rightful gatekeeper to ensure that we have solid representation across all our advertising outputs, showing strong signals of determination and solidarity.

Thirdly, we need to create an environment and context that is accepting, empathic and welcoming to all.

Let’s take each in turn.

Using our platforms for good, we should be promoting our industry and creating opportunities for young people to experience it first-hand. We also should seek talent out from far and wide and from unconventional places (and not looking for a specific set of pre-requisites as we so often do).

One key area is using the apprenticeship levy to its full capacity. I believe this is the single biggest and most impactful bullet that we have to solve this issue. The levy enables any business (big or small) to take advantage of a funding pot to give young people, who may not have the means to access Higher Education, a chance to earn, learn leading skills and be debt free. Here is a guide to help you.

However, Marketing Week reported that 58% of marketing departments do not have an apprentice, a shockingly poor statistic by any count. I urge to look your organisation in the mirror and ask; do you currently champion apprentices? If you don’t know, find out.

I genuinely believe if there was one tangible and valuable thing that we can do as an industry, is drive more employers to take on an apprentice. If we are able to talk about this to our HR team, speak to another employer or spread the word on social media, we could achieve the 3.5% threshold to really give it the traction it needs.

The next action to incite as custodians of the wider marketing and advertising industry, is to hold organisations to account to ensure that they are representing diversity in their messaging. It is important to showcase that we as an industry will not tolerate an insular viewpoint, and need to implement this through collectively defined directives and common standards.

As we have seen it also makes commercial sense for us to take on this role. It’s a situation that if we get right is good for ourselves, clients, customers and wider society.

Finally, we need to drive greater shared understanding and perspectives throughout all levels of our organisations. Initiatives such as School of Marketing’s Mentoring Gen Z programme, help to create close connection from people across the organisation.

However, I would say that it’s important to move beyond mentoring and into sponsorship. This is where we become more personally invested in the journey of people from all backgrounds. So creating a ‘sharing movement’ so more people are willing to have an open door policy and invest time, energy and resources to champion a diverse and inclusive environment is key.

It all starts with a small group of us deciding that these are our priorities and championing this to the 3.5%. However, as an industry, our secret weapon is that we know we can do so much more than that and amplify this message beyond our boundaries.

So let’s take collective action, to commit to use our platforms for good, and make this significant issue, a non-issue in years to come. If we don’t, who will?

Ritchie Mehta is the CEO of School of Marketing, published author ofThe New Marketing Playbook and podcaster of The Places We’ll Go Show.


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