Diversity and Inclusion
What difference does it really make? Who needs to ‘own’ it, and…what should brands be doing about it?
Written by Stuart Andrews, D&I Senior Consultant.
Diversity and Inclusion…it’s a hot topic, and it’s increasingly in the headlines, having already tripped up some of the supposed leading lights in our own industry with some badly thought through points of view (ahem…we’ll leave you to work out who!). And, you know what? The volume is about to be turned up to max with Gender Pay Gap Reporting coming into force in April of this year.
It’s being discussed, debated and (in some areas) decried everywhere, from boardrooms to dinner parties and business networks to network news…but what does it actually mean and what can you do? Are you just ticking boxes, or driving change?
From our experience, we know that just talking about the D&I agenda and alluding to the fact that “things need to change” is no longer sufficient. As a result, the marketing and advertising sector is increasingly being challenged to help clients fulfil their obligations and meet evolving consumer and shareholder expectations. At bigdog, part of The Mission Group, we’ve made a commitment to develop D&I specific competencies that keep us at the forefront of these developments, both internally and client work-wise.
Based on our award-nominated, specialist D&I work, we hosted a Diversity and Inclusion business breakfast at the end of last year, in collaboration with Barclays, with whom we have partnered over the past four years to help them amplify the impact of their own D&I initiatives.
This was an opportunity for our guests - from organisations including Tesco, BAE, Sainsbury’s and Channel 4 - to showcase the work we have done in partnership with Mark McLane (Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion), and his D&I team at Barclays over the past four years. Focusing on what we have learned and how we have worked together to translate strategic intent into long-term action that has delivered significant results.
And, in addition, those who attended got to learn first-hand from Mark, what it takes for a highly regulated global brand and business to translate strategic ambition into positive action, and how we work together to bring initiatives and campaigns that are driving lasting change to life.
Working with Barclays and a host of partner organisations, including Centrica, Vodafone and the Women’s Business Council, has taught us that the extent and depth of understanding of the agenda, challenges and considerations can vary wildly across different business organisations.
So, we did a bit of our own research: in the run-up to the event, we gave an awareness survey to a wide array of brands and businesses. Asking them a few simple questions on the topic to get a better understanding of just how diverse the awareness of D&I really is. And we uncovered some interesting insights.
Firstly, we asked what Diversity and Inclusion means to individual business leaders or owners, as well as to their brand or business.
‘It’s about attracting and retaining the best talent’came out way ahead of all other responses, cited by a staggering 80% of respondents as one of their main reasons.
Followed by ‘It’s about being more relevant to today’s customers’and ‘It’s about being more innovative’, (at 63% and 60% respectively). And over half of respondents said ‘It’s about achieving better business results’, while the hygiene factors around ‘external reputations’ and ‘complying with legal requirements’ scored lowest.
These responses clearly support the changes in focus we’ve seen in recent years, and it’s encouraging to see a clear consensus emerging in relation to why embracing D&I is so important, beyond the ‘we need to be seen to be doing something’ approaches of the past.
Then we asked a number of follow-on questions regarding who “owns” it and how it is being driven, and this is where some interesting ‘truths’ started to come to the surface.
33% of respondents reported that D&I resides in the HR department of their organisation – which supports the top response to the first question: that D&I is about “attracting and retaining the best talent”.
Our experience working with Barclays and their partners - including Sky, Mars Foods, BAE, Vodafone, Infosys, the DWP and DCMS - and specialists like Remploy and Disability Rights backs this up. At present this is most likely where D&I sits in many organisations. But interestingly, 20% of respondents said it sat with the board of directors, and 17% said it sits with a specifically created Diversity and Inclusion team.
This is great to hear from both perspectives. It’s fantastic to see that organisations are starting to appoint D&I heads and cross-functional teams, and we were really pleased to hear that boards are taking the lead. Because this means there is potential for D&I ambitions, strategies and initiatives to be cascaded, embedded and driven in other functional areas of a business.
And this is important. Think about it like this: why shouldn’t D&I be an aspect of innovation, or product development, or marketing? These provide the stepping stones in the long-term ambition that D&I is integral to the entire organisation – and every function should have it as part of its ethos and feel empowered, because every individual is ‘included’.
What our survey discovered is that business UK is clearly on a journey with this, but what we found out next was really interesting (although from our experience, not unexpected and can be explained).
We asked respondents to tell us whether their organisation “has both a clear vision with regards to the topic and a strategy or plan to drive it forward”
- 57% said yes, they do have a clear vision and a strategy.
- 13% said no they don’t.
- while 10% said there is a vision but no plan.
- And 13% said there is a plan, but lack of vision (with 7% unsure).
Let’s simplify that: over 50% of respondents said that they have a clearly stated ambition or aim and a strategy that supports them trying to deliver on this.
What this tells us is that while awareness of the need to do something about D&I is increasing, there is still some way to go from an organisational point of view.
What happened next however was the bit that we thought was both telling and honest: we asked respondents to tell us whether they believed that their “own staff or colleagues know about their organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and, crucially, if they buy into it”.
The ‘gap’ in internal awareness took us by surprise! Given that in the previous question 87% of businesses said that they had either a clearly stated ambition and/or a strategy or plan to drive change, ONLY 37% said ‘yes’, they believed that their own staff actually understand it and buy into what they are doing. Read that again: ONLY 37%!
This means that 63% of businesses who responded weren’t sure whether their own staff really understood what their own organisation was planning to do (or were already doing) in terms of the D&I agenda.
And this is a hugely important point, because it’s where all your ambition, positioning and programming can amount to nothing. Think about it like this: if your people don’t see it, don’t get it, don’t believe it or haven’t bought into your D&I plans and initiatives, you’re going to struggle to convince external audiences that you’re doing the right things for the right reasons.
We know from experience that making the first move is daunting. The agendas can be confusing. the landscape is littered with potential pitfalls and booby traps and it’s very easy to see how many (often smaller) organisations fall back on doing the bare minimum - simply making reasonable adjustments - or stall and do nothing at all. Because in many cases, when a business’s management think about the reputational risk of getting things wrong, they err on playing it safe.
Last year Campaign worked with Engine to publish a supplement which came out just after Cannes and focused on encouraging brands to “shout about what you’re doing”. Which was all very nice, but as our insight shows, there’s a bit more to it before you start broadcasting how great you are.
The work we’ve done with Barclays on really connecting and amplifying their D&I commitments over the last four years backs this up. Because, it proves that what really works is a healthy dollop of raw honesty. The balls to admit when you haven’t got it right…and that for all our self-congratulation we’ve only just started the journey. The truth is that many of our brands are barely on board the plane…and in fact we’re really still queuing to find our seats.
Hot topic or not, there is still a lot of work to be done. Not just in relation to how D&I is viewed, but also in terms of the steps being taken internally and externally by businesses in relation to the issue, and how these ambitions, commitments, initiatives, campaigns and programmes are then communicated.
We know that it’s tough to know where to start, so let us give you one simple but proven piece of advice: without doubt the worst thing you can do in terms of D&I is nothing at all.
So, stop thinking about it, debating it and get something started.
And that might just be where we can help with our D&I specific consultancy offering. So, if you need some help with organising your thoughts or bringing your strategy, campaign or initiative to life, give us a call. We’d like to share our experience and help drive a change, for good.