Wunderman Thompson Boss: “Could COVID-19 Accelerate Diversity & Equality In The Workplace?”

Wunderman Thompson Boss: “Could COVID-19 Accelerate Diversity & Equality In The Workplace?”
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In this guest post, Wunderman Thompson CEO John Gutteridge (main photo) asks whether the current crisis might just help influence positive change in business.  In particular, the pandemic could be responsible for permanently adjusting the pendulum by accelerating equality in the workplace…

So here we are, a few weeks into working from home (WFH). Some highs and lows, but overall a rhythm is starting to emerge. Yet again we have proved how adaptable humans can be. Forced into a crisis (for many the unknown) we find a way to overcome the challenges and create new ways of working. And perhaps this is a good thing.

It’s common knowledge that our industry has a diversity problem. We love to write articles, host panel talks, open industry bodies, measure inequality and generally chest beat – but the COVID-19 pandemic could be responsible for permanently adjusting the pendulum.

This crisis might just be the catalyst we need to accelerate equality in the workplace.

There is a harmful disconnect between the make-up of the marketing community and the Australian population.

Take Sydney for example, 78 per cent of its population resides in Greater Western Sydney. Yet as Multicultural NSW points too, only three per cent of agency talent live in the greater west, with 41 per cent residing in the inner city, 25 per cent in the eastern suburbs and 12 per cent on the North Shore

So proportionately we have a disconnect – only three per cent of the industry’s talent comes from the most densely populated region of Sydney. Given we are an industry that prides itself on understanding human insights and behaviour it surely raises an issue. We could argue that the geographic concentration of our offices – in mostly CBD locations – has become the root cause of this evident disconnect with communities that aren’t centralised in the city centre, thus leading to a reduction in the diversity of talent to which we have access.

The industry has been trying to find a solution for this – building marketing schools in suburban areas, participating in blind recruitment processes, working with local universities. These are all great long-term solutions, but what if it was as simple as engaging a remote working policy? Allowing talent to cut long stretches of commute time and work from their local precincts (the very areas where the majority of our consumers live).

In my opinion we are now experiencing the tectonic shift needed to ensure businesses will change how they operate forever. The prospect of remote working long term brings together a future where there is no physical barrier for suburban and rural talent. I believe, this in turn will result in a more heterogeneous culture, less blind spots and more impactful ideas.

We won’t have to choose between raising kids and having a career

It’s an outdated choice that we still have to tackle. How do we raise children, while still maintaining a successful career? In Australia, the gender equality pay gap is currently at 13.9 per cent and for the most part, the caregiving role is held by the female. A study by the University of Massachusetts found that women get a four per cent pay cut for each child they have, while fathers get a six per cent increase.

It’s a parenting penalty – one that holds for the majority of our female workforce. Our industry has held ‘flexible working’ as a buzzword until now. The advent of remote working has pushed us to become more empathetic to parenting juggles, allowing us a very real and very personal look into employees’ lives through video conferencing technology.

The idea of remote working has now been forced upon organisations around the world. This concept of remote working prioritises the health of employees. We need to develop the same viewpoint on parental flexibility; it shouldn’t be a penalty for employees, but instead a priority for organisations. Picture a world where caregivers won’t have to choose between their career or family when they return-to-work because they have an opportunity to work remotely with flexible hours.

It will make work accessible for all.

It is now, when we are confined to a home, that we need to reflect on the sections of the Australian population who live like this day-to-day. Those with physical disabilities often have feelings of isolation, housebound due to the lack of mobility aids, accessible transport and buildings or without assistance from family and friends.

There is also an extreme level of discrimination. Of the 2.1 million Australians of working age with disability, just under half are employed (47.8 per cent). Being able to prosper in the workplace is not an easy feat for those with disabilities, often they are discriminated against especially in highly competitive industries such as advertising or technology. Remote working can be the catalyst of industry change and empower those with talent and a disability to apply for positions and join the workforce without restrictions and limitations. It also allows organisations to tap into this pool of talent.

It is during a time of crisis that cultural changes arise. WWII saw women with children join the workforce, climate change shifted our consumption habits, and COVID-19 has the potential to shape the look of our workplace of the future. This pandemic will see companies invest more significantly in technology, enabling their workforce to fulfil their roles and be productive WFH. From this crisis our industry will diversify and allow room for those who have been left behind. After all, even the most temporary of changes can have a lasting effect.

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John Gutteridge Wunderman Thompson

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