Industry Diversity: It’s More Than Skin Deep

Industry Diversity: It’s More Than Skin Deep

In his final column for the year, B&T’s favourite industry maverick and troublemaker, Robert Strohfeldt, turns his opinion pen to adland’s topic du jour – diversity. And, he says, it’s as much about the thinking as it is who you employ at your agency…

There is an old (and wise) statement most people would have heard – “Steer clear of discussing politics, sex and religion at dinner parties”.

But if you want to work in advertising, then it is a mandatory to be able to understand and communicate with the diverse range of people who make up the Australian community. (All but the extreme nutters at either end of this spectrum that is). To be an effective communicator, a person must be open to and aware of the socio-political issues swirling around. (So, politics, sex and religion are nearly always on, or lurking near, the agenda)

A major topic of discussion is diversity in the work place. Rather than the nefarious reasons given by social warriors for change, the logic behind the push for greater diversity cannot be faulted.

A homogeneous work place, particularly in creative businesses, is not reflective of the diversity within the community to whom we are speaking, but more concerning is the lack of diversity of ideas that will come out of a group of people who all share the same attitudes and beliefs. AI is a much greater threat is these circumstances. As an example, machine learning may be able to write a rap song. (Just about anyone could. Wonderfully egalitarian, rap requires no musical talent or training.). I digress. The “machine” after being exposed to endless amounts of rap, will be able to write a wrap song, but it won’t produce songs that people such as Bowie or Prince wrote.

I have watched the advertising industry become less and less diverse over the past 10 to 15 years. To many in the business, diversity is about gender, skin colour and sexuality. A total load of bullshit – diversity comes from the mind, not physical attributes.

A group of people who differ in ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, may all have very similar attitudes and philosophies and hence do not constitute a diverse group.

The advertising business is far more politicised than it ever was in the past. Objectivity, i.e. what does the target want or feel, is replaced with how they should want or feel, according the loud minority who seem to be setting community standards through social media. (Though not the all – powerful advertising medium it was originally made out to be, there is no doubting its power for propaganda).

The most glaring example is the Antifa movement. Supposedly aimed at “fighting fascism”, it has adopted the basics of fascism to pursue its crusade.

One of many definitions of Fascist (All very similar, only varying in semantics):

A fascist is a follower of a political philosophy characterized by authoritarian views and a strong central government — and no tolerance for opposing opinions. Fascist traces to the Italian word fascio, meaning “group, bundle.” Under fascist rule, the emphasis is on the group — the nation — with few individual rights.

The above describes the Antifa movement to a tee. If it wasn’t so serious, it would be hilarious.  A bunch of super serious nerdy, left wing drop outs chanting their inane rhyming lines, protesting their own philosophy. And we think Pauline Hanson looks silly. She is an intellectual giant compared to these idiots.

Fascism applies to extremes of the right and the left with one common identifying feature – to strangle freedom of speech, the cornerstone of democracy.

Antifa don’t believe in democracy. Though apart from being anti-democratic, it is hard to discern what their core beliefs are, as it is a lose affiliation of disparate groups.   It has been the same through history. Hitler was without doubt a despot of the highest order. But so was Starlin. The most common criticism, usually chanted in inane little ditties, is that someone is a Nazi. (But what about someone who follows the extreme left? Scorecard: Hitler 7 million VS Starlin 57 million)

If they were only against genuine Nazis, I doubt anyone decent person would take issue with them. But they turn on any person or group who doesn’t think the same way they do. (Intolerance, the basis of human conflict since the year dot).

Australia has a rich history of diversity – arguably the most multi-cultural of all developed societies. (And underdeveloped, where ethnic or religious differences frequently lead to explosive violence).The current drive to diversity is leading more to division than harmony.

Looking objectively at the results of the SSM survey, some 40 per cent of the people said no.  So, in a room of 10 people, six will be for and four against. That is hardly an overwhelming majority and if not handled delicately and with respect for everybody’s beliefs, could lead to conflict.

Adding irony to the results is that in the communities for which the left supposedly has great empathy, the No vote was as high as 80%. I was reading a report on this and one of the Green’s tweeted “Highlighting such figures just provides ammunition to the bigots”. So, the truth should not be reported or discussed? Sounds very “Fascist” to me.

One of the many changes to the ad industry over the past 20 or so years has been the reduction in the diversity of the people. Some of the best creatives I have worked with did not go to University and came from under-privileged families. It was a melting pot of backgrounds/experiences, attitudes and philosophies, all melded together by respect.

Advertising was not perfect on the issue of gender equality, though it was nowhere near as male dominated as many other industries. Though gender equality in opportunities and pay was not so much an industry issue as a broad societal one.

More and more women are looking to have careers now, so it is only natural the percentage participation across all levels will increase.

Sexuality? Bloody hell, I don’t know anyone who did not have gay staff and friends. It was a non-event. As in, no one gave a toss about sexual preference, the measure of a person’s worth was in the quality of their work. Though I must admit, it would be difficult for a drag queen to find management roles.

But now, more and more people working in the industry think very much the same. As mentioned, diversity of thought is the pay- off for diversity in the work place. We are turning into an industry of inner city elites. (Not all, but a far cry from 20 years ago). The industry has acted like sheep on so many issues – the Magpie Generation, as Mark Ritson once said. If it is bright, shinny, new and “digital”, they must have it. Objective thinking has been replaced by “group think” and often work is done that will appeal to their peers, rather than the target market.

I wonder how some would go about advertising to the 4 out of 10 people who voted no?

“Even Bigoted Bastards Love Cadbury”

Or maybe

“Carlton Draught. Refresh the Homophobe in You”.

Workplace diversity should be about equal opportunity (and pay) for all, irrespective of gender, ethnicity and sexual preference.

Many similarities have been drawn between sport and business. The most successful sporting teams (male and female) have an unwritten code of “no dickheads”. Talent alone is not enough. Just as important is the impact that person will have on the team.

Those who would like to see quotas brought in to ensure that workplace identity is a replica of society will do more harm than good. The odds of a head or a tail, when tossing a coin, are 50/50. But if you tossed a coin 10 times, rarely would the result be 5 heads and 5 tails. The same principal of statistical variance applies to people. Quotas result in tokenism and eventually resentment as people who are less talented, qualified or both are appointed to positions, simply to ensure “diversity”.

People should have equal opportunity and access. But how a person progresses along their chosen path should be based on how they perform, not some crazy quota system to ensure the workplace is microcosm of society at large.

I dread the day when I have to explain to a client the reason for the terrible art direction – “As you know we have quotas to fill and the art director on your business is the best one- legged, gay Callithumpian art director money can buy!”

Visit for a reality check on the big issues facing the advertising industry.

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Robert Strohfeldt

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