Diverse workforces build stronger businesses

Diversity brings new ideas, perspectives and understanding of different communities, but it also boosts brands’ revenues.

It’s logical that open and inclusive brands will be in a better position to connect with consumers no matter what their race, gender, sexuality, religion, age or social background. But they also do better financially.

Research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicates that having an equal gender split in an office is associated with a 41% increase in revenue compared with the same office staffed by only men or only women, while a McKinsey study conducted between 2008 and 2010 found that the top 25% of companies ranked by the diversity of their boards were 53% more profitable than the bottom quartile.

For the UK marketing industry, therefore, representing the diversity of the market it serves is not only a matter of social responsibility but also of business performance.

“I don’t think any marketing organisation is going to succeed in future if they don’t have a culture in step with a society that is increasingly accepting of diversity,” says Jan Gooding, group brand director at Aviva. “The more diverse your marketing people are the more emotional intelligence and empathy they will have for different audiences, so it’s incredibly important.”

There is perhaps no organisation under greater pressure than the publicly funded BBC to ensure both its output and workforce are fully representative of society as a whole, according to director of marketing and audiences, Philip Almond. In order to attract marketers from a more diverse pool of talent, he believes businesses need to put the right processes and training schemes in place to ensure people of all backgrounds are given the same opportunities.

“That’s not positive discrimination, it’s levelling the playing field, which is otherwise tilted towards the established universities and the middle classes,” he says.

Indeed, Marketing Week’s 2015 Salary Survey revealed that 75% of marketers and digital specialists are educated to degree level and 44% have a marketing-specific qualification.

Almond acknowledges that, while there has been a rise in the number of internships available to young people, it can be difficult for those who don’t come from a wealthy background to fund periods of work experience in media, so the BBC has introduced a number of placements aimed specifically at people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The BBC partners with the MAMA Youth Project and Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust to give young people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and those with limited education or employment opportunities the skills they need to work in TV and media, and takes on 20 graduate trainee interns from BAME backgrounds as part of the Creative Access programme. It also runs a paid work placement scheme called Extend for disabled people, 75% of which gained further work at the BBC after completing a six-month stint at the organisation last year.

Aviva’s group brand director Jan Gooding believes diverse marketing teams have more “emotional intelligence and empathy” for different audiences

“It is not about lack of ability, it’s about understanding how you get things done in an environment that can be quite foreign and intimidating to some people,” Almond says. “Creativity is about diversity and the more people you have with different points of view and different backgrounds working together, the better the creative output.”

Last year IBM partnered with the Ideas Foundation, a charity designed to give young people experience in the creative industries. The software giant set a brief asking kids to come up with an integrated campaign that promoted its top predictions for innovation over the next five years in order to raise awareness of the brand, the winner of which won a place on the charity’s The Ladder career progression programme.

“The ability to reach out to kids from schools in deprived areas or those that just wouldn’t normally get this type of opportunity is invaluable,” says IBM vice president of marketing, communications and citizenship Alison Orsi.

IBM will be sponsoring another brief this year but Orsi admits there is more the industry could do to inspire children “because most kids don’t know what a career in marketing really means, particularly when you start to think about some of the new data driven and digital opportunities that didn’t exist until a few years ago”.

When it comes to data-driven marketing, Dora Michail, Yahoo’s senior director of audience solutions EMEA, advises businesses not be narrow-minded when assessing people’s experience, as a background in science, maths and technology – still male-dominated subjects in schools and universities – is not necessarily a prerequisite.

Yahoo looked at the background and education of the women working within its audience solutions division, for example, and discovered that while some came from an obvious route such as maths there were also people that studied humanities and other more creative subjects.

“I studied English literature but got into advertising and followed the tech piece as it was the part I found most interesting,” says Michail. “You need to have an analytical mind and be curious but advertising is also about telling stories, so being able to combine the analytical piece with a creative mind-set is crucial.”

While still dominated by men in general, women are taking on more digital marketing roles, according to the IPA’s 2014 Agency Census, which finds that women now account for 27% of digital creative roles, up from 15% in 2013.

IBM’s Orsi believes companies that don’t actively seek to employ marketers from different backgrounds and communities could harm their business in the long run. “I certainly value the diversity in my marketing team,” she says. “There are ideas and perspectives that I would never have thought of because I don’t have kids, I’m not gay and I don’t have a disability.”

Aviva’s Gooding also stresses the importance of businesses looking beyond their own sector when employing marketers.

“I’m testimony to the fact that Aviva has tended to recruit from outside the financial services industry when bringing people into the marketing function [having previously held roles at BT and British Gas]. I think the diversity of thinking that comes from other industries is very important,” she adds.

Aviva operates a number of initiatives to encourage diversity and inclusion within the business, including a women’s network and a group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, which it calls Aviva Pride.

Gooding, who is also chair of LGBT charity Stonewall, stresses the importance of making internal networks such as these as visible as possible throughout the business, particularly to new employees, as it “signals that you take diversity really seriously”.

BBC’s director of audiences believes businesses need to have the right processes and training schemes to give all people the same opportunities

However, Stonewall’s head of workplace programmes Simon Feeke reckons people will be surprised to learn that marketing in general is not an industry that is particularly understanding of the gay community.

“It is a common misconception that marketing, media and retail are gay-friendly,” he says. “We are actually seeing more good practice in the legal sector and professional services industries, which are far more proactive in this area.”

Indeed, while Aviva appears in Stonewall’s 2015 list of the top 100 gay-friendly employers, there are no marketing or media firms present. “They are conspicuous by their absence,” he asserts.

The gay market is worth £81bn in the UK alone, according to Stonewall, so businesses would be wise to ensure the community is properly represented at a marketing level and beyond, particularly as three in five gay people said they would be willing to spend more on products and services from gay-friendly companies. Feeke says there is a “really compelling business case” for organisations to encourage LGBT employees to be open about their sexuality at work.

“If people are not out at work they don’t perform as well,” claims Gooding. “It is literally untapped productivity in the system. If people are out, the more creative and collaborative they will be and the better their work will be.”

Having a working environment that includes all minority groups also educates people throughout the rest of the business about how customers from those communities like to be treated.

“We find that what’s important to customers is less that [the LGBT community] appear in our advertising and more that they have a positive customer experience,” says Gooding. “There are not special or different insurance policies for gay people but when people interact with us, if their spouse is the same sex they want us to make reference to that rather than assume they are the opposite sex.”

However, there is a real need to imbed this thinking across all aspects of the business, not just in marketing, or businesses could run the risk of delivering mixed messages. Stonewall’s Feeke highlights a case where a hotel chain marketed itself as a venue for civil partnerships but failed to train frontline staff around diversity issues.

“When two gay men tried to check in the receptionist told them they wouldn’t be able to share a room, which hit the press, so all the good work and marketing that had been done was undermined,” he says. “It exposed [the chain] as being opportunistic and trying to cash in rather than living the values.”

How does encouraging diversity benefit the P&G business?

We are very clear that our business is stronger when we have diversity. We did some research a few years ago which ascertained that business results are 5% stronger if we have a diverse team compared to homogeneous team. Putting a figure on it was really helpful in order to get everybody behind the business case for diversity.

How have your business practices changed as a result?

We realised we’d created a sloped playing field, which made it easier for men to get on in our business than women because the culture, processes and systems we had in place were more suited to a male work and lifestyle. Our career path, for example, used to encourage people to move geographically every three years to get different experiences, but we found it was much easier for men to do that than women as they were more likely to have a trailing spouse. So we changed the career path to look at what skills and experiences people needed to get to the next level rather than them having to move geographically.

What impact has this had on the business?

The real benefit has been looking at people’s business results, rather than any style or culture change, so that we can really promote the best talent. We know when we promote the best talent and have a diverse work force we get the best range of thoughts and ideas, which enables us to make better plans.

What initiatives do you run internally to promote diversity?

We run a diversity and inclusion week, which gets the whole organisation at every level celebrating diversity. We have lots of training modules and affinity groups selling membership as we find that the more we talk about it and the more these groups are normalised by being public, the more it encourages people to be themselves and not to try to conform to any role model they think P&G is looking for.

We all have unconscious bias and we all take cognitive shortcuts based on our experiences so [exercises like this] force us to check ourselves and think ‘am I really choosing the best person for the job or am I choosing someone because they are similar to the person I had before?’ If they are similar the chances are they’ll think similarly too, so you won’t get that real depth and breadth of thought that can really add magic.

Monitoring diversity

Before businesses can become inclusive they have to acknowledge that people are different, says Aviva’s group brand director Jan Gooding. She urges businesses to ask themselves three questions to see if they are doing all they can to be open and encouraging of different backgrounds, which in turn will get the most from employees.

  • Do we monitor diversity and know what’s going on within the business?
  • Do we look broadly or are we narrow in our thinking?
  • When people arrive does it feel like an organisation that encourages the idea of diversity?

This continual assessment means Aviva knows what the gender split across the group is by level of seniority is at any time, says Gooding.

The business employs around 28,000 people and overall is divided fairly evenly between men and women “but as you go up to the more senior ranks it narrows so by the time you get to the group executive we’ve got 27% women and 18% on the board,” she adds. In the marketing function specifically there are more women than men, however, which continues right the way up to the senior team.

In order to create a balanced work force, Procter & Gamble makes leaders accountable for diversity. People are measured quantitatively in terms of hiring, promotions and attrition to make sure that it is proportional, plus the business asks all employees whether they feel included and whether their manager values diversity as part of an annual survey.

Geraldine Huse, vice-president, global customer business development at P&G, says:“Every leader’s score card includes this measure as well as other business measures and the expectation is that we deliver on both. If there is any issue on any measure it will affect someone’s performance review.”

The BBC has also introduced robust measures for keeping track of workforce diversity and has targets in place to increase employment of staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, those with a disability and women in technology.

As a result some critics have warned of positive discrimination but Philip Almond, director of marketing and audiences at the BBC, says: “You’ll never give a job to someone that isn’t capable of doing it so [positive discrimination] is more in the perception of others that in reality.”