Diversity in adland - Moving the dial on the conversation in 2022 - NABS
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Diversity in adland – Moving the dial on the conversation in 2022

by Paul Wells, NABS director of wellbeing services and culture change  

2022 will mark two years since the murder of George Floyd and two years of investigation in our industry around DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion) in our workplaces. How can we collectively move the conversation on in 2022?

Our industry was as affected as any by the terrible murder of George Floyd and rightly so. As colleagues from underrepresented groups began to share their stories of discrimination in our industry, it became clear that we collectively had much work to do to make our industry equitable for all.

Indeed, we still have much work to do. The results of last summer’s All In Census gave us solid data showing how the working lives, and in particular, the mental health of Black, disabled and working-class colleagues, are negatively impacted by having to face regular discrimination.

So what’s in store for this conversation in 2022?

Looking forward to this year, let’s set out our challenge.

That challenge is to collectively move the conversation on in 2022.

Yes, we need to keep momentum with existing concerns and facets of DE&I. That work is far from done yet. But we need to branch out. Other underrepresented groups need support too. How, then, can we tackle new aspects of DE&I while keeping existing conversations going?

Let’s look at where the conversation has focused until this point. Awareness of diversity has happily increased greatly since March 2020 and because of the trigger for that – the atrocious murder of George Floyd – much of the work that’s been done around discrimination has focused on equity and our Black colleagues. We’ve been right to focus on racism, of course, and as I will keep reiterating, there is still so much more to do. But I’m aware that in our industry, this work has at least started.

For example, at NABS, we asked expert trainers  BELOVD to deliver brilliant anti-racism sessions to our team. We’ve also encouraged everyone on the team to conduct self-education sessions, alone or in groups to further their understanding of the issues. Continuing this work and approach, we need to widen our focus.

Neurodiversity and disability

From what I can see in my work as a diversity lead, the next key themes to tackle are disability and neurodiversity. You need diverse teams to create diverse and authentic output. NABS has held this firm belief for a long time. The stats around disabled representation in advertising are a clear demonstration of what happens when you don’t have these diverse teams in place.

As the uncle of a deaf nephew, I’m particularly passionate about disability representation. I was delighted to see Rose Ayling-Ellis, a deaf contestant, win Strictly last year. This representation had a brilliant effect: the British Sign Language (BSL) Courses website saw a massive 2,844% increase in signups for their free trial training programmes the day after one of Ayling-Ellis’ appearances. But is this representation filtering down into our adverts? Not from what I can see, and not from what the stats tell us.

According to the Geena Davis Institute, which advocates for inclusion in entertainment, characters with disabilities made up only 2.2% of characters in 2019 ads, which is well below the 19% of people with disabilities globally.

According to the All In Census, 9.2% of respondents had a disability, yet 20% of the UK population is disabled. Here is the dismal result of that: recent research by Lloyds Bank revealed that less than one per cent of characters in UK adverts were disabled. This is far from the representation that we need, both on our screens and behind them.

Meanwhile, the conversation around neurodiversity appears to be gaining some traction in the wider world, with celebrities such as Mel Sykes opening up about her adult diagnosis of autism.

But is this reflected in our industry? Do we understand how to welcome neurodiverse people into our teams? How to support them to thrive and to contribute to our work?

At this stage, it seems to me that we have a lot of work to do to get to that point.

There’s still a lot of work to be done

We need to be much more aware of intersectionality this year than we have been in the past. In many ways, we’ve talked as an industry in quite a binary way about discrimination and racism, as I explored before. But what’s it like to be a black gay woman with a disability or neurodiversity? We need to start challenging ourselves to get beyond the binary and into the depth and the breadth of the human experience, and the wholeness of that.

It’s a big job and a daunting one, but there’s something we need to do to help keep momentum: Celebrate our successes so far and celebrate the increasing diversity that we’re slowly starting to see on our teams. When you learn with your teams, take time to support and to thank them, and to honour the time and space they’ve taken to further their education.

Celebrate the individuals and the differences between us, and talk openly and joyfully about what we bring to the table as a result of our different backgrounds. Bring some light to what can be a serious conversation and this light will help to lead the way this year and beyond.


This was originally published in Creativepool.

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