Combating Poor Diversity and Continued Harassment Within ‘Adland’


From Donald Trump to Bill O’Reilly to Harvey Weinstein, the media have no difficulty finding another story of systematic sexism by the most powerful voices in business, politics and entertainment. However, sexism and the harassment that often accompanies it goes far beyond these headline grabbing sections of modern culture. In fact, sexism and harassment are present in almost any industry that lacks diversity of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and religion.

Within the advertising and marketing sector, you could be forgiven for believing lacklustre diversity is a thing of the past. Some say that the industry is unlike the days of the so-called ‘Mad Men’. Others claim that women and people of colour are as common place as white males. The reality is, however, that whilst the industry has indeed made considerable progress since the 1960’s many agencies still fail to approach diversity in a modern and progressive way.

When carrying out research to analyse the diversity of ‘Adland’ in 2012, ex-creative director Kat Gordon found that only 3% of creative directors were female and that far fewer were individuals of colour. Dismayed by her findings, Kat launched the 3% Movement with the goal of increasing this miniscule percentage to 50% through events, mentorship, consulting and research.

Research carried out by the 3% Movement in subsequent years has revealed much more than a lack of diversity. Their ‘Elephant on Mad Ave’ study, for example, found that 91% of females working within the advertising industry had heard demeaning comments from male colleagues. What’s more, 54% have been subjected to unwanted sexual advances during their career with many of these advances being made by a senior colleague.

In addition to these shameful findings, the same study found that 52% of females believe that they had been passed up for promotions or new opportunities due to their gender. 60% also believe that they are asked to perform lower level tasks than their male colleagues, such as taking notes or planning company events.

The findings of this study and many others published in recent years show a continued lack of diversity and culture of harassment within many agencies. Whilst the ‘Elephant on Mad Ave’ study surveyed those working within U.S. agencies, I have no doubt that similar cultures exist in UK-based agencies too. This belief was verified when Cindy Gallop, a passionate activist for equality within the advertising industry, called upon those within the industry to out sexual harassers and received a flurry of responses.

Whilst we consider an agencies technical capabilities and approach to communication within our agency selection and auditing processes, it is evident to me that Agency Scouts fail to formally consider the diversity of an agency before partnering them with our clients. What’s more, we do not consider how an agency approaches claims of harassment either. With few businesses wanting to work with an organisation that maintains such a dated and distasteful culture, this is simply not good enough. It is also shown that a lack of diversity within an agency impacts the results achieved through marketing activities.

In the comings months, therefore, Agency Scouts will be carrying out a review of both our agency selection and auditing processes. Whilst this review will cast an eye over each existing step, the overriding goal is to confirm how we can consider the diversity of an agency and their approach to reports of harassment before putting them forward for pitching. Equally, how do we flag concerns over diversity and harassment when auditing a client’s existing agency partner.

Whilst I am delighted to be attacking this issue head-on at Agency Scouts today, the reality is that this should have been a consideration from our inception. Whilst we have always had the goal of helping businesses and their agencies grow together, I for one do not want to aid in the growth of agencies that fail to approach diversity in a modern and progressive way. Not only do I believe it places a stain on an industry I love deeply, but it ultimately reflects on the clients who entrust us to partner them with a top-tier agency.

By | 2017-11-04T09:58:07+00:00 October 22nd, 2017|Culture, Founder's Notes|

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