Why Agency Diversity Isn’t A “Nice To Have”

Why Agency Diversity Isn’t A “Nice To Have”

OMD’s marketing and business development manager, Danielle Le Toullec (pictured below), attended B&T’s Changing the Ratio last week and in this guest post she brilliantly summarises the day into an essential and handy read…

Did you know diversity can save lives? Or keep you warm in the office?

I went into B&T’s Changing the Ratio last Monday knowing that equality is important and that although we’re making great progress within the media industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. I left with a renewed sense of purpose as to just how important it is to have diverse teams, not only for business success but as a matter of life and death.


Now before you go thinking, Danielle you’re being dramatic. Let me give you some context.

Changing the Ratio is a bold new initiative to continue B&T’s mission of making equality, diversity and inclusion the norm in Australia’s communications industry and beyond. Although it’s great to see amazing support for this movement, there is a sense of ‘preaching to the converted’ as these events tend to be populated by those that already believe in the necessity of equality. Hence the purpose of me sharing my learnings here with you – to hopefully reach a few more eyeballs and maybe give a nudge in the right direction for those that dismiss this as a “not their issue”.

As the MC, George McEnroe; CEO and founder of Shebah, a female-only Rideshare company, stated in her opening address, “who is at the table when legislation passes, matters”.

Diversity is about ensuring that the population is represented as diplomatically as possible. This means diversity from not only a gender perspective, but also different ages, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, those with disabilities etc.

The cold hard facts

Sally-Ann Williams, engineering community and outreach manager at Google, did a wonderful job of substantiating the importance of diversity in her keynote: Inclusion in STEM Education – it matters!

So, now it’s time to talk about life and death.

Did you know that historically women are 47 per cent more likely to be badly injured in car crashes because seat belt design failed women due to the size of the crash test dummies? Airbags routinely caused death and serious injury to women and children because research was based on the body of the average male.

Another example of the importance of diverse teams in STEM fields was found when YouTube were testing mobile uploads for the first time. The team were finding there was a substantial amount of people uploading their videos upside down. Can you guess why? After a lot of head scratching, they realised that these people were left-handed, and the majority of the testing team had been right-handed!

The revelations kept coming. Are you a woman working in an office? Are you always cold? You guessed it… temperature regulations were based on the average male!

Inclusion isn’t a nice to have, it’s a must have if you’re building solutions that are suitable for everyone. And the reality is that 99.996 per cent decisions are made unconsciously, so if you don’t intentionally, deliberately and proactively include, you will exclude. Sally-Ann’s practical advice for encouraging diversity is to firstly measure where you’re at. You need to set a benchmark that you’ll never go below again.

What is our industry’s role in this?

In short, we need to hire and empower more diverse people.

In their talk, ‘Attracting diverse talent into advertising and media’, Avish Gordhan alongside fellow Cummins&Partners creative director, Mandie van der Merwe, highlighted the importance of attracting diverse talent. Although there has been a huge cultural shift in the population of Australia over the last 50 years, our industry is largely mono-cultural. A lot of diverse people are either not considering our industry for a career or alternatively they aren’t getting a look in at the recruitment level.

Firstly, to take steps in improving our industry’s diversity, we need to advertise advertising. People may know what ads are, but they don’t know the economic or social value of advertising. At the end of the day, we know that original ideas are the backbone of our industry and diverse thinking is the answer. Avish wrapped up by emphasising the fact that this discussion isn’t simply about equality or giving everyone a fair chance. It’s about money.

Secondly, as an industry we need to be more open to hiring people from diverse backgrounds. We heard from Roger Antochi, general manager and positive social change activist at RISE, an organisation dedicated to sourcing job opportunities for marginalised youth. We also had the chance to hear Deng Adut’s incredible story which added a refugee perspective to the topic of workplace inclusion. In his moving keynote, he said “if you want to help someone who has been through trauma, give them a job, it keeps their mind busy. Don’t give them food, give them a job.” He also encouraged us to do away with resumes and to focus more on potential, as only hiring based on experience further deepens the disadvantage divide rather than taking people on face value.

Understanding the size of the opportunity

During the panel on leveraging the opportunities of multicultural Australia, it was emphasised that we don’t need quotas for diversity, we need it to be part of our ethos. It shouldn’t be a number or a box you need to tick – genuinely explore the opportunity.

As Dr Tim Soutphommasane pointed out, when one in five people are reporting that they are still experiencing discrimination, just because you may not experience it, that doesn’t mean discrimination doesn’t exist. An analogy that he shared was that you may not see armed robberies or car crashes, but they happen every day! So, if you’re not getting diversity right, you’re missing out on a big chunk of your audience. Put simply, that means you’re missing out on the dollars.

Listening is paramount to this. Different cultures may use your product in different ways, so how can you leverage this in your media campaigns? We heard some examples from Tamara Howe, Kellogg’s Australia’s marketing director, where some cultures were deep-frying cornflakes with a special mix of herbs and spices to create a snack whilst others were using it to crumb chicken or as their go-to dinner after a busy day at uni.

Adam Ballesty, Diageo’s marketing and innovation director, reinforced this when he said that you can go too far down the “purpose” or targeting route, sometimes you just need to focus on the occasion and the product then see what your audience, aka anyone who buys the product, do with it.

To sell this in to those that may not believe in the importance of diversity, we were given the practical advice to understand what people are motivated by, then find a way for diversity to be the solution. Because when you look at the results, for example the ARN case study presented by CMO Anthony Xydis, it’s not just a cause – diversity is a strategic pillar which delivers results (caveat: approach must be authentic!).

Reflecting on my key takeouts

It’s important not to underestimate our power to improve diversity through small, every day changes. As our final keynote Australian media royalty, Lisa Wilkinson summarised, the greater the struggle, the better the view. So, when things seem impossible, focus on putting one foot in front of the other and don’t rely on traditional thinking.

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changing the ratio Danielle Le Toullec OMD

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