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Why diversity breeds creativity… and better financial performance

Deepa Shah
CFO, Europe & Singapore
Hall & Partners

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I was delighted to win an Asian Women of Achievement award last year which recognised my success as an Asian woman in business. Since then I’ve become more self-aware of my ethnicity within the creative services industry I work in. And as I look around the environment I know so well, I see that I’m part of a distinct group of people trying to make their mark in what’s still a white-dominated industry.

Last year, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), together with industry magazine Campaign, published statistics on diversity by gathering data from a sample of UK-based agencies. Long-term data shows that the proportion of employees from ethnic backgrounds had increased: 6.1% in 2007 rising to 13.1% by 2015. So far, so good – it would seem that the creative industries are in line with the 2011 Census data in which 13% of the 55 million UK population is of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background. However, the latest IPA survey data in 2016 revealed that the figure had dropped to 12%, which falls well short of the IPA’s commitment to help the industry recruit 25% of new joiners from BAME backgrounds by 2020.

This seemingly high target reflects the the dearth of BAME role models and influencers within the industry, and the need to create diversity at senior-leadership level. This is an area where the creative services agencies need to further focus their efforts – in line with the IPA’s second target, to ensure ‘at least 15% of people in leadership positions in the IPA’s biggest agencies will be from a non-white background’.

McKinsey has been examining diversity in the workplace for several years. Their latest report, Diversity Matters, examined proprietary data sets for 366 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the UK and the US. In this research, they looked at metrics such as financial results and the composition of top management and boards.

Their research discovered that racially and ethnically diverse companies were likely to outperform financially by a staggering 35%.

A diverse pool of talent adds richness through different lenses of knowledge, experiences, cultures and backgrounds

There are numerous other studies which reveal that diversity breeds creativity and innovation. The last two decades have seen many cultural changes as the world has become more deeply connected and global. The USA had its first black president. The LGBTQ community have achieved equal rights. Social media increasingly defines and drives culture and trends. These changes have not only made people think differently but also allowed them to express themselves in more ways than ever before, without feeling pressurised by society to have a narrow perspective.

It should therefore come as no surprise that more diverse companies and institutions are achieving better performance. Facebook, Google, LVMH and Innocent are great examples of businesses that encourage their staff to think differently. People evolve if they’re free to do so without barriers.

A diverse pool of talent adds richness through different lenses of knowledge, experiences, cultures and backgrounds, leading to stronger teams within our businesses. We can therefore offer clients really innovative work as well as gain a competitive advantage. Isn’t that what we should be doing as a ‘creative’ industry anyway?

If we’re to take diversity seriously we need to drive cultural change within our organisations, not just view it as a tick box to meet quotas. The creative services industry – driven by us, those who work in the industry – must therefore do more to take full advantage of the opportunity that diverse teams represent. That’s particularly true for their talent pipelines – attracting, developing, mentoring, sponsoring and retaining the next generations of global leaders at all levels.

In today’s world of rising disruptors, creative industries would do well to invest in a more diverse future. It’s more important now than ever that business leaders and their teams bring a wealth of different experiences and backgrounds to bear. It will only lead to better things!


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