How Direct Line is ‘fixing’ the lack of diversity in its marketing

A year ago, Direct Line realised its marketing output wasn’t matching the diversity of its workforce or customer base and it has since been trying to fix that.

Direct Line has typically seen itself as a champion of diversity and inclusion. A quick glance at its corporate website shows it runs several initiatives, from giving senior leaders diversity and inclusion policies to running an internal diversity forum called DNA and offering mentoring programmes for both LGBT+ and BAME people.

And its marketing boss Mark Evans has been a forward-thinker on issues around neurodiversity and encouraging more people that might have dyslexia or dyspraxia to join the company.

However, a year ago the company realised that while the diversity and inclusivity of its workforce was something to be “really proud of”, it wasn’t matched in its marketing comms.

“[The diversity and inclusivity of our workforce] really wasn’t matched in the diversity and inclusivity of our comm, nor did [our comms] reflect the diversity of our customer base,” said Direct Line’s brand director Kerry Chilvers, speaking as part of a panel discussion at ISBA’s annual conference last week (5 March).

“It wasn’t deliberate but it was unconscious bias… The last year has been about our journey to fixing that. A big caveat being that we’re absolutely not there and there are many other brilliant brands that are blazing a trail well ahead of us.”

Nevertheless, Chilvers has adopted an approach that aims to tackle this lack of diversity. The first thing she did was talk to those trailblazing businesses, such as Nationwide, about how to do diversity “appropriately” and where to start.

That led to the next step, which was an audit of its communications – everything from TV ads to customer communications and website content.

For me, diversity goals are important because what gets measured gets done. But you have to do that in a win/win way; this isn’t a box ticking exercise, it’s not just for the sake of it, it’s got to be done authentically.

Kerry Chilvers, Direct Line

“It didn’t really tell me anything I couldn’t have guessed but it was quite stark to see it written down and compared to the stats of the UK population and our customer base and employer base, you realise you’ve got some work to do,” explained Chilvers.

Chilvers also started to talk more loudly about diversity and inclusion with its marketing teams and enlisted supporters across the team to help build an action plan, identify the barriers and what can be done to fix them. That includes areas such as ensuring the insights it is using are genuinely diverse and that the teams understand segments of the population they don’t fit into to changing the pitching and production processes.

“It’s amazing how having it front of mind makes a difference in the conversations we are having with our agencies and each other,” added Chilvers. “It has to be an ongoing conversation in the team so we don’t let that unconscious bias creep back in.”

The value of diversity goals

Direct Line is also exploring whether to have goals to “hold ourselves to account a bit more on it”.

The issue of how goals can help improve diversity and inclusion has become controversial, with some worrying that it suggests women, BAME or LGBT+ people could be picked for a job or to appear in an ad simply because they tick a box. However Chilvers believes goals are important and that it not about pitching women against men or white people against BAME but as a win/win for everyone.

“For me the goals are important because what gets measured gets done and so it focuses the mind. But you have to do that in a win/win way; this isn’t a box ticking exercise, it’s not just for the sake of it, it’s got to be done authentically,” she said.

Sonia Sudhakar, the Guardian’s consumer marketing director, agrees. She uses the example of the gender pay gap data, which has provided a benchmark for where organisations are and the ability to set a target.

Speaking earlier in the day, WPP’s CEO Mark Read admitted that having its gender pay gap made public has “forced us to address the issue more than we would have done”. WPP’s median pay gap is 14.9% in favour of men, while the mean is 23.7%.

“Every organisation is different but if you can be bold enough it shows your intention very clearly,” said Sudhakar. “You shouldn’t be afraid of a target. It can just be an internal target that you try and work to [that is used as a] motivational thing rather than a stick to beat people with.”

Meanwhile, Boots UK marketing director Helen Normoyle says the lack of progress on improving diversity at many companies over the past 10 years shows targets are needed. But she warns against having targets in marketing and communications, saying ad campaigns need to “have integrity” and be reflective of the audience.

“We don’t want it to feel like we’ve ticked a box, so we’ve got an X, a Y and a Z. We want it to feel truly inclusive and authentic. When in our beauty ad we have a woman over 60, one of our colleagues who is British Caribbean, a double amputee, a young woman who has adult acne, this just feels really natural because it is reflective of our customer base and our audiences.”

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