M&S and Unilever address marketing’s lack of socio-economic diversity

On a mission to tackle the lack of socio-economic diversity within marketing, M&S, Unilever and the School of Marketing discuss why championing apprenticeships could be the answer.

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Having spent decades understanding the psychology of achievement, Marks & Spencer Food marketing director Sharry Cramond is a passionate advocate for improving the socio-economic diversity of marketing.

However, at the start of her career she didn’t tell many people about her background growing up in a low-income household on a council estate. Nor did she discuss a particular moment in her early life that shaped the marketer she is today.

Speaking last week at the Festival of Marketing: Transform, Cramond recalled starting secondary school and her family not being able to afford her new uniform. She and her mum eventually found a blazer at the local second-hand shop, but when she knocked on her best friend’s door on the first day of school she discovered the blazer was the wrong shade of blue.

Cramond told her friend, and every child she met on her first day, that she knew she was wearing the wrong colour, but she preferred it.

“Now I’ve got more senior, if I was to look back on my career and think what could I have done differently? I wish I’d been more open about it earlier. Now I make sure I speak about it a lot,” Cramond explained.

“I was speaking at another event recently and someone said to me in advance: ‘Are you sure you’re comfortable talking about your background?’ More than comfortable. I’ve got to do this because by me doing it, it shows other people that you can come from any type of background. That’s not to say we only want people from my type of background, we want diversity of thought from people of lots of different types of backgrounds.”

People should apply for apprenticeships. It’s going to do wonders in terms of bringing new talent into businesses.

Lisa Hutchinson, Unilever

She believes in many ways her experience with the blazer fuelled her marketing career, because she learnt the benefit of standing out from the crowd. Drawing on these early experiences, Cramond often asks her leadership team what they are personally doing to bring in the next generation of talent and encourage true diversity of thought.

The M&S Food marketing director mentors a group of 15-year-old girls with potential from a school in an under-privileged community in Arbroath, Scotland. A few weeks ago, Cramond invited the girls down to London to visit M&S HQ, as well as work with partners Mindshare and ITV. The idea was to show them the different kinds of careers they could pursue.

While they were shy at first, by the end of the trip the girls had gained in confidence. Aside from being surprised about the different kinds of jobs on offer – such as working in social media managing TikTok – their biggest takeaway was how normal all the leaders were. Making roles in marketing feel attainable to young people is crucial, Cramond insisted.

This idea also resonated with her when she discussed hiring a store colleague for a role in marketing. The employee in question was concerned about her lack of formal marketing experience.

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“She said: ‘I’m a bit nervous, because I don’t have any marketing experience.’ I said: ‘When I’m hiring people I’m not looking for 90% ability and 10% attitude. I’m not looking 50% attitude and 50% ability. I’m looking for 90% attitude and 10% ability. You’re already a brilliant communicator. You’ve already been promoted many times within your retail customer-facing role, so I know you will have ability to do the job and you have the most amazing attitude’,” said Cramond.

She promised to mentor the new marketing recruit and “always have her back”, explaining she would rather hire brilliant people with the right attitude and then teach them the skills. Cramond urged her fellow marketers to free themselves from a tick box mentality when it comes to talent.

“One of our store colleagues wanting to move into marketing, before I might have thought I wouldn’t be able to do that, because you have to have worked in marketing for five years and tick all the boxes,” she noted.

“When people do make that move really support them and help them to be successful. Then role model them within an organisation. It shows other people that it’s possible.”

Spread the word

Cramond’s challenge to the wider marketing industry is, what are you doing to make a difference?

“Anyone who’s a marketing leader in any way – what are you going to do to reach out? I challenge everyone in my team to say: ‘What are you doing to give back?’. It’s not just mentoring one person in the organisation. It’s much broader than that,” Cramond argued.

The M&S Food marketing boss was joined on stage by two-time apprentice and Unilever global licensing executive, Lisa Hutchinson. She challenged every company to provide a marketing apprenticeship and argued apprenticeships can apply to every entry level role.

I challenge everyone in my team to say: ‘What are you doing to give back?’. It’s not just mentoring one person in the organisation. It’s much broader than that.

Sharry Cramond, M&S Food

Growing up in West London, Hutchinson had used Unilever products on a daily basis, but didn’t think about the people behind the brands. Then aged 18, she saw an application for a business administration apprenticeship at Unilever on the website Not Going to Uni.

Clear she wanted to gain experience and earn a salary – without accruing debt – this felt like the right route. Hutchinson pointed out that schools push children to continue their education with a degree, without explaining an apprenticeship is education, just in a different form.

She kicked off her apprenticeship working with the haircare team on Tresemmé while the brand was sponsoring ITV’s X Factor, before moving into the food team and taking on her second apprenticeship in digital marketing.

Hutchinson laughed about being asked if, as an apprentice, she just made cups of tea and took notes in meetings, explaining that she was on the frontline working on real projects and talking to new teams across the business.

“People should apply for apprenticeships. It’s going to do wonders in terms of bringing new talent into businesses, because where I come from I didn’t think that people even worked for those brands and now I have,” said Hutchinson.

Addressing the barriers that exist in the adoption of apprenticeships is key. Marketing Week’s 2022 Career and Salary Survey revealed more than half (57.9%) of marketers work for a brand with no marketing apprenticeship. Of the 4,463 marketers surveyed, 21.2% say their company does not currently see the value in it.

Apprenticeships: A fifth of marketers admit their business ‘doesn’t see value’

Fellow panellist Ritchie Mehta, managing director of Level 3 apprenticeship provider the School of Marketing, pointed out that whether you work for an SME or large business, funding is not an issue due to the Apprenticeship Levy.

However, Mehta claimed to have not encountered any companies that are 100% utilising their levy, to the point where £330m in unused funds was returned to HMRC in 2019/2020.

The number one barrier in the adoption of apprenticeships is a lack of education, he explained, urging marketers to ask their team about the current state of the company’s Apprenticeship Levy utilisation.

“It will be an embarrassing answer I assure you. That will raise awareness across the organisation and your leadership will know there is something there that all of us should be taking advantage of,” said Mehta.

Ending nepotism

His big rallying call, however, was for marketers to think about recruitment and retention in a meaningful way that “puts an end to nepotism”. This starts with senior leaders thinking about what they can do differently the next time they recruit for a role.

The second issue is retention and the fact marketers faced with socio-economic challenges from the outset often struggle to climb the corporate ladder.

Marketing Week’s 2022 Career and Salary survey uncovered a socio-economic pay gap in marketing of 19.1%, with marketers from upper middle or upper-class backgrounds more than twice as likely to be marketing directors or vice-presidents than their peers from working-class backgrounds.

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“You’ve got two options in this respect if you’re diverse talent from a diverse socio-economic background. You can either choose to become more like the people you see in the organisation and you compromise yourself. Or you leave,” Mehta argued.

“If you do have either of those outcomes you’re not coming back for more, you’re not telling your friends, you’re not telling people in your community that this is a great place to work.”

Underlining how important it is to make diverse talent feel welcome and not regard diversity and inclusion as a “tick box exercise”, Mehta described encouraging diversity as a personal conviction.

This sentiment was echoed by Cramond. She explained that while M&S will continue to find people through its graduate programme, she is passionate about where to find the next wave of amazing talent.

“It can’t just be through the graduate programme. We’ll still have that and we’ll still have great people, but now we’re going to explore what more can we do with the apprenticeship programme and make sure that we’re taking talent from different places,” she added.