To reap the benefits of diversity, marketers need to sell marketing harder

Diversity matters. It’s not just a nice-to-do; it powers the success of brands and business.

This was McKinsey’s conclusion in January 2015 when they reported that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have above average financial returns, increasing to 35 percent more likely for ethnic diversity. The study concluded that every 10 percent increase in gender diversity at UK Board level led to an equivalent 3.5 percent increase in EBIT.

So, it’s clear: a diverse talent pool has never been more important to commercial success, now and in the future.

To achieve this, the rules of engagement need to radically change. I believe brand owners and advertisers should shoulder responsibility to proactively reach out and connect with a far broader range of schools and with school-age children pre-GCSEs. Modern marketing needs to fire up imaginations and persuade teenagers that we’re a profession that craves and embraces the creatively-gifted, strategically-savvy and digitally-driven regardless of who they are, where they go to school or how they’re performing in those traditional subjects of science, technology, English and maths.

It’s time for marketers to start marketing marketing. The status quo of passively expecting 15 and 16 year olds to know about and understand what marketing is has to change if we are to affect true levels of diversity at work. Too many have never heard of marketing, while, those who have often assume it’s ‘not for them’. If we don’t act now, we lose the war to attract and retain the best and the brightest to the pay of the City and the glitter of Silicon Valley.

One of the most entrenched barriers to improving diversity, in my view, is the continued belief that the application and interview processes designed in a pre-digital era are still fit for purpose. As a global HR Director succinctly said, “it’s time to get down from your high horse and recognise that companies will only ever hire people who make effort to come to them”.

If we want marketing to remain at the vanguard of change, in step with current and future customers we must proactively reach out and inspire the new modern superheroes that will unlock McKinsey’s value equation for diversity. That raw talent is sitting in classrooms up and down the country right now, with heads crammed full of imagination, big insights and even bigger ideas, waiting to challenge conformity and deliver the electricity that the very best marketing feeds off.

The good news is that outreach organisations like The Ideas Foundation and Magnificent Generation in the UK and The Marcus Graham Project in The States have ground-breaking programmes to help brands change the traditional rules (if not break them altogether) and market marketing in a language that opens the door to every fifteen year old’s inner Keith Weed. For example, The Ideas Foundation has already run programmes baked into the Curriculum in 2015 for Barclays, Santander, Talk, Hiscox, Canon, Sony Home Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, B&Q, IBM and many more, using their unique “I Am Creative” methodology. An impressive line-up of brands has confirmed participation for 2016 and the response from the schools and pupil referral units they work with has never been stronger.

Diversity matters. And diversity in marketing will only change once marketers do what they do best, and market marketing to the most diverse talent pool possible to find our future leaders.

Richard Robinson is Managing partner at Oystercatchers

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