In recent weeks, several different incidents across the country, from a local Starbucks to an Airbnb rental, have once again cast a national spotlight on the implicit bias challenge facing us as a nation today.
For brands and their consumers, the struggle is just as real. Diversity in advertising—and even more broadly, the communications industry—is an issue that has been on everyone’s lips for the better part of the last two decades. However, only in moments when brands “miss the mark” does it force our industry to look in the mirror and fess up that we have a long way to truly build a culture of inclusion.
The ad industry, for example, has faced its own inequity reckoning over the past few months. Women make up over half of the employee base of the marketing and communications industry today yet hold less than 10 percent of leadership positions. The pay gap exists across the world in the industry; in particular, a recent report showed a median gender pay gap of 18.4 percent across the U.K. in the industry. And it’s not just an industry issue. At large, manager and senior executive roles in the private sector are still 86 percent white and 70 percent male, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. These data points should set off alarm bells for leaders who understand the bottom line benefits of diversity.
The truth exposed in every campaign or ad that falls short is that trying to be inclusive and portray diversity when we as an industry are not truly diverse at our core creates an insurmountable challenge.
The intent in many of these failed ads is admirable, particularly from provocative brands who dare to take on the issue of diversity in all shapes, shades and sizes. But especially in today’s hypersensitive, tension-filled climate, we will continue to stumble if we don’t have a workforce that accurately represents the audiences we want to engage. We shouldn’t need a moment of crisis to make that clear.