Diversity in work just needs a will

Post was first posted on Mediatel here.

Like many, over recent months I’ve been thinking about how we go about improving diversity in the work force. During my last few months at Spotify I underwent 20 to 30 hours of training and education, and asked the business to think hard about how we could approach change practically.

Now, on reflection, I’ve simplified that thinking into just two required elements for progression in diversity within a business: a will to change, and commercial support from the top. 

In countries like the UK and US, I would argue that the only thing stopping your team from achieving true diversity is your leader. If your team isn’t diverse, it’s because there is no real will to change. If there is a strong will, decisions will be made around hiring, inclusivity in the business and how the team operates. 

Often people look at the boards of companies to assess how well they are dealing with this topic, but I suggest delving down through a few layers of the company. If the picture remains the same, that’s a sure sign of a serious issue. 

So in countries where the popular workforce is diverse, a will to change from leadership is all that matters when it comes to making progress in reflecting that diversity within businesses. 

There is, however, one exception to that rule. When it comes to entry level talent programmes, there needs to be some significant investment. 

In every business there should be an allocation and a programme for work placements. Still, so few companies do this well. With a little time and a little investment, this can change. 

After years of Speakers for Schools work and more recently getting to know The Youth Group, a business working to improve the odds for young people, it is clear that creating work placements and apprenticeships is key to improving diversity within teams and giving young, diverse talent a chance to succeed. 

However, I have been running European businesses for over ten years, and in many countries the advertising industry has been almost entirely white in its ethnic makeup. Even with the best will, a leader in advertising in Spain or Italy is going to really struggle to find diverse candidates. 

So what has to happen in those markets if anything is to change? 

Firstly, businesses need to bring on board less experienced candidates than they might otherwise. For those in sales, that has to be acknowledged in the numbers. Or else time needs to be allocated to bring those less experienced candidates up to speed. 

And secondly, businesses need to allocate actual budget for long term recruitment practices, creating a better pipeline for talent by researching into other industries. The talent may be out there, but not yet in advertising. 

Of course, the only person who can sign off on these things is the person at the very top. Leaders have to put their words into actions with money, not just time. They have to create space for change and make it a priority – not just in what they say they care about, but what they put their cash behind. 

The talent is there, but it either needs to be nurtured, or it needs to be persuaded that this is a great industry to be a part of, that there are huge opportunities to get involved with here, and that this is where they should want to be. 

So let’s look to the top and ask for the money, time and space to succeed with improving the diversity of our teams.

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