Realise the benefits of embracing true diversity

It’s time to think of diversity as an enabler and a powerful tool, and not merely an obligation, writes Jo Gaines.

Jo Gaines headshot (002)Today’s Australia is a lot more diverse than many marketing and advertising efforts would have you believe. Sadly, we are still a long way from representing true diversity across culture, race, gender, age, sexual and religious persuasion – among other things – and because of this we’re missing a valuable trick.

Cindy Lee Gallop, renowned advertising consultant, founder and former chair of the US branch of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, and founder of IfWeRanTheWorld and MakeLoveNotPorn, recently outlined some harsh truths at a conference in Sydney. Gallop highlighted that today’s advertising and marketing industry is desperately lacking in gender diversity, citing that ‘glacial pace of change’ can be partly attributed to the executive leadership structure within the advertising industry, and in other business sectors across the globe.

Gallop, who used the hashtag #changetheratio (which was coined by Rachel Sklar), discussed very clearly the benefits we can all realise if more female leaders and creative directors are empowered.

Contrary to seemingly popular opinion and according to ‘The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards’, Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women board directors achieved significantly higher financial performance – outperforming return on equity by 53% and return on invested capital by at least 66%.

Recent research from McKinsey also shows that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians and companies. Conversely, companies in the bottom quartile both for gender, and for ethnicity and race are statistically less likely to achieve above-average financial returns.

With the average Australian consumer vastly different today (Australia comprises of almost six million migrants, born in over 200 countries) to 20, 30 or even 10 years ago, the industry needs to market, target and communicate with Australians from all backgrounds, accurately mirroring today’s Australians.

Let’s also not forget, we’re dealing with a globalised environment, there are no borders in business, your customer personas are more diverse than they ever have been. There’s obviously a mutual benefit to be achieved by catering to correct market representation.

Now, when you review the facts mentioned above and how it might apply to the creative industry, these statistics make obvious sense. In an increasingly commoditised market, the value we bring to clients and customers comes from service, our use of data and data intelligence and our creativity; is how one organisation or brand differentiates from the other.

It’s how our great ideas are brainstormed and ideated in boardrooms and cafes across the country. It’s how new innovations that disrupt the market come to life.

If we want – and acknowledge that we need – diverse marketing and advertising, we also need a diverse and representative workforce.

It’s hard to be creative if everyone is painted with the same brush. Our clients, leading marketers and publishers are often at the forefront of segmenting and targeting their audience with relevant, personalised messages and we want to be in a position where brands reflect their respective customer base in terms of age, content usage, demographics and more.

If you are dealing with a diverse audience set – such as Australia – you need to understand what pieces of content will make them tick.

A diverse group of people are more than likely to look at situations from different angles and points of view with their own respective layers of conscious and unconscious bias leading to better, more creative and representative ideas. Homogeny simply begets homogeny.

And it’s certainly not just a token response that is needed, Gallop also mused that “tokenism is useless because the alien organism has to adapt to the environment around it.”

Simply making a token or obligatory effort doesn’t change anything, we need to strive for real change both ethically and also because it makes business sense.

This means we need to commit to fostering an environment and hiring people from different cultural and racial backgrounds, different genders, different ages and different sexual persuasions and so on.

Having these people bring their own experiences, skills and perspectives to the table is vital if we are to continually innovate and evolve and importantly maintain relevance and resonance amongst today’s Australians.

There are examples encouragingly positive steps being made. For example Salesforce’s CEO Marc Benioff recently launched the ‘Equal Pay Initiative’ which involved a full and comprehensive review of staff salaries to ensure every employee was receiving equitable benefit. The company analysed over 17,000 employee salaries and spent US $3m, adjusting the salaries of 6% of its workforce to ensure all employees doing comparable work were getting paid the same amount.

Benioff also challenged other CEOs to do the same, calling the Equal Pay initiative ‘so easy.’

“With just the push of one button, every CEO in the world can know exactly what is their pay discrepancy between men and women, and I hope that every CEO pushes that button,” he said.

Conference organisers are also seeking more diverse panels and participation, such as at the 2016 Marketing Summit: Valuing the Arts, where diverse voices played a key part. Many business leaders also recognise the importance of diversity and are taking action, organisations such as the Diversity Council of Australia are striving to facilitate knowledge sharing, diversity planning and strategy for today’s workplaces.

However, more can and should be done. Watch any of this year’s leading advertising campaigns and you’ll struggle to see true diversity represented, apart from this week’s clever Spring Lamb 2016 You Never Lamb Alone advertisement which only further supports an argument for true diversity.

It’s time we think about diversity as an enabler, an empowerment tool and not an obligation. We need to mirror the successful companies, making diversity real and communicate the value of diversity and how it impacts our businesses and our society. Remember, homogeny will always beget homogeny – and who wants that?

 

Jo Gaines is managing director APAC for Krux