Socio-economic diversity is the tide that floats many boats

Addressing marketing’s lack of socio-economic diversity could be the key to creating a more inclusive industry in general. However, making a difference starts with taking practical steps.

Rising tide
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If you want to change something, do it differently. If something isn’t happening naturally, it’s going to take work. I want to help those who are trying to attract different talent at the entry level, but have found it unexpectedly difficult.

My advice is based on five years’ experience at The Marketing Academy Foundation. We’ve walked the talk with some amazing partners. We’ll leave the poetry to others. This is all practical advice.

First, a reminder of how damning the stats on both ethnicity and privilege in our industry are. At The Marketing Academy Foundation, we are avid about socio-economic status. Working-class workers account for 38% of the wider workforce, versus 24% of people in advertising and marketing. Some 63% of workers in our industry come from parents in the upper strata of society – higher than all creative industries surveyed. It’s bad for our industry to be so middle class.

Representation is shocking for non-white employees. The Office of National Statistics puts the figure at 5.4% non-white employees in our industry, versus 12.7% of the general population. But the number of working-class people excluded is so much greater, meaning on the upside the talent pool is so much bigger.

Don’t make class the forgotten child of diversity

The lack of inclusion when you look at the intersectionality of race, gender and class in our industry is even more appalling. A working-class white woman is three times less likely to be working in the creative industries than a privileged white male.

Even in ethnically diverse cities, the locus of most creative jobs, those who are white and privileged are twice as likely to find themselves in creative jobs than non-white, working class individuals. This was brought to life in 2020 research from the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre, which found only 16% of people in creative jobs are from working-class backgrounds.

Based on our experience at The Marketing Academy Foundation, here are eight things we have found that work:

1. Socio-economic status is the tide that floats many diversity boats

We focus on individuals from tough socio-economic backgrounds. We monitor how we are doing on other aspects such as gender, ethnicity and education. Socio-economic status is not a protected characteristic, so we can advertise our role to attract talent from this community. We find that around 60% of our successful applicants for London-based roles are from ethnic minority backgrounds. I don’t know why that is the case, maybe applicants feel attracted to our overt inclusivity.

2. You will need an outreach programme

Diverse talent is unlikely to find its way to you. Their aunts and uncles will not be pointing them to the grad recruitment rounds like their middle-class peers. Advertise on mass market job boards or connect with programmes such as the very excellent Get Hired events run by The Prince’s Trust.

3. Job applications may not shine

Young people who are from working-class or less advantaged backgrounds often do not have anyone in their family who can help them with their CV, advise them how to write a covering letter or give them practise interviews. This is the biggest game-changer for finding talent that most recruiters fail to spot.

Go deep into the CVs to see if you can spot a gem hidden in there. Taking three or four minutes (versus the average seven seconds) to read each of your 100 applications takes time (or money to pay someone like The Marketing Academy Foundation to do it for you!).

4. Talent from lower socio-economic backgrounds can lack confidence

Organisations sometimes want the same confidence and polish that young people from middle-class backgrounds bring, but in a different guise. Our talent won’t bounce in, blowing their own trumpets. But ask them in the interview about something in their CV that they have done that excites them and they will light up, and you see the potential.

We have heard about podcasts recorded from the back of a bus, lizard-breeding businesses, starting a football team and getting it registered in a FA league, a blog about natural beauty for trans-women. I am always impressed. Taking the trouble to draw them out on their accomplishments will surprise and delight you. And you will want these hard-working, entrepreneurial and determined people to join your organisation.

5. Interviews can be a bit free form

Often no one will have given them practise interviews or can advise them how much preparation they need to do. Because we are targeting the bottom third of socio-economic status, we interview the children of cleaners, shop assistants and mini-cab drivers. Why would they know how to get an executive role in one of the best companies in the world?

So, we expect some unstructured answers and make allowances. We coach our talent for their second interviews on structure and preparation. Just like a mum or dad in a top professional job would.

6. Apprenticeships are accessible

We sense that individuals from challenging backgrounds feel comfortable applying for our apprenticeships and our hypothesis is that they feel such roles are more accessible to them. Apprenticeships are a massive opportunity to attract diverse talent.

7. Apprentices can be graduates

The law does not mandate that apprentices cannot be graduates. For a statutory apprenticeship, you just can’t have a degree in the subject of your apprenticeship. Employers often think apprentices are all school leavers, possibly why they rule them out for marketing departments. We certainly find being a graduate not to be a barrier to applying to our apprenticeships and around 50% of our successful candidates have degrees.

8. You need great managers

Diverse talent will be different. It is surprising how many people want diverse talent and then hire for a perfect fit with the team. Leading diverse teams involves cherishing difference, whilst driving to a common goal. Managers will need to understand this and to be empathetic in order to build confidence, as well as give great feedback on how to do the job.

In other words, managing diverse talent can also bring out the best in the mangers. What a win for everyone.

Daryl Fielding is CEO of The Marketing Academy Foundation

Opening Up brandingMarketing Week’s Opening Up campaign is pushing for the democratisation of marketing careers. Follow our coverage of the challenges and opportunities over the coming weeks. Read all the articles from the series so far here