“Remember The Power You Hold”: TBWA’s Renata Yannoulis On Create Space & Diversity In Advertising

“Remember The Power You Hold”: TBWA’s Renata Yannoulis On Create Space & Diversity In Advertising

In the lead-up to the launch of the Create Space Census on 1 November, B&T sat down with Advertising Council Australia (ACA) D&I Committee member Renata Yannoulis, TBWA\Sydney senior strategist.

Yannoulis explained that while action may be hard, completing a census is easy and will directly help to progress diversity and inclusion in adland.

Tell us a bit about your experiences of diversity and inclusion in advertising, past and present.

As an industry, I think we’re pretty woke. It’s literally our job to stay on top of what’s happening in culture, why certain ideas resonate more than others and what people value. We know DE&I is important, that it’s good for business, and which brands are getting it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. This knowledge gives us the license to talk, complain and over-intellectualise the subject until it can become a huge polarising thing that nobody wants to take responsibility for because the stakes are too high.

Just as we’re scared of going online nowadays and using the wrong word or asking the wrong question, DE&I can be a scary topic for agencies. As a result, I’m not sure we have the free flow of ideas and questions that allows much movement on the matter. It can become an all-or-nothing beast that requires too much time, effort and investment to do justice. Inaction can become the default.

But I’ve also witnessed progress when action is a shared responsibility – modelled from the top down. It’s small steps and open forums where many voices are heard. I’ve witnessed the ROI after initiatives have been properly rolled out in this manner – higher staff retention, safer employee culture and improvements to the quality of work.

Do you think we’re making progress, or, what’s holding us back?

I think we are making progress but not at the pace we should be. We live in a more open society – a post #MeToo, post-Covid, and mid-recession ‘Vote No’ era – and our industry is trying to keep up with everything, everywhere, all at once. It’s been economically a tough few years for most agencies, squeezed from every angle. In turn, I understand how DE&I projects can fall off the priority list.

Ultimately yes, things are broadly better than a decade ago but individual businesses operate very differently from one another and experiences vary widely, It can be hard to know where to start as a business. That’s where Create Space comes in. The 2022 Report and Action Plan shares statistical proof of where it’s best to begin and provides the tools, actions and ideas that agencies can roll out as they see fit.

The true measure of our progress depends on widespread participation in our biennial census, which takes place next Wednesday 1 November, to track what’s changed, what hasn’t, and where we need to focus our energy next.

What was the most shocking stat for you from the last census and what, in your opinion, needs to be done to rectify it?

The following actually validated my personal experiences:

One in four female middle managers compared to one in 10 male middle managers say they’re likely to leave the industry specifically due to a lack of inclusion. Further, eight per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment in the last twelve months (compared to three per cent in the UK advertising industry).

Statistically speaking, as a female ‘mid-level manager’, I am most likely to leave the industry today. Women leave at this point because they may not see other women in senior management, they may have experienced casual and/or explicit harassment, they could be burnt out from the expectations and experiences, and to top it all off, have subpar maternity leave and parental flexibility on the horizon compared to similar industries.

It’s not just the obvious concern for the mental and physical health of mid-level staff that leadership should be worried about. Retaining the diversity of this cohort is imperative for the industry’s progress overall. Diversity fuels divergent thinking, which breeds better creative ideas. Losing our female perspectives will be to the detriment of the work.

Retaining diverse mid-level talent requires senior leadership to open up the expectation of traditional role trajectories, invest in their training, provide them with new opportunities, take their complaints or worries seriously, empathise with their experiences to date and give them a say in shaping what their next role entails – whether that exists yet or not.

What would you like to say to industry leaders and the new generation of advertising/creative professionals when it comes to DE&I in Aussie advertising?

To industry leaders, we need concrete action within agencies. This has a better chance of success if you personally help enforce it. Yes, talking up the importance of DE&I can signal that you give a shit about your people, but your actions show them you really care. Hold yourself accountable and look at the makeup of your own agency – where are the gaps, who are underrepresented, how can this be improved and how can you support or resource your teams to enact the progress you want to make?

To the new generation, remember the power you hold. Right now, there is more of a push for DE&I than ever before. Please make the most of this.

Unlike previous generations, you don’t have to be a silent witness to things that affect you or your peers. You have an opportunity to tell your story and be a part of coming to solutions. Stand up for the minorities, the women and the others in the room. I promise it will make others respect you more inside and outside the boardroom if you say as you do, and do as you say.

Why should agencies and individuals take part in this year’s census on 1 November and how do they get involved?

If it weren’t for the census, the notion of creating space for others in this industry wouldn’t exist. The more people that do the survey, the more accurate a picture we’ll have of our industry and the more informed our initiatives will be to support our people. The only way to know how we’re progressing as an industry is to capture everyone’s experiences on a regular basis. ACA has committed to doing so every two years. Talk is cheap, action can be hard. Completing the census is the easy bit!

This year’s Create Space Census takes place next Wednesday 1 November to chart the ad industry’s progress on diversity and inclusion. Jump onto createspacecensus.com on the day to complete the 15-minute survey.

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Advertising Council Australia

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