Diversity the order of the day at Night School
About six months ago, I wrote this:
Times are changing in the agency world. New working models are emerging, old ones are being re-imagined. Diversity, meanwhile, matters more than ever. Against this background, CSOs and hiring managers are looking afresh at the qualities that really matter when recruiting planners and strategists.
Gone are the days, for example, when top tier university leavers or the products of a major player’s graduate intake scheme are the default option. Increasingly for hiring managers, a person’s attitude, natural abilities and personal qualities are more important than what degree they have, where they got it and whose in-house training scheme they’ve been on.
This summer, 14 talented young creatives from diverse backgrounds completed an eight-week training programme called Night School. Jointly run by The Brooklyn Brothers and Yellowzine, Night School wants to unlock potential and open doors in creative industries for people from ethnic minority backgrounds. At the same time, it’s addressing the underrepresentation of these groups in our industry. Just 12.4% of people working in creative comms agencies are from BAME backgrounds.
I went along to the Night School graduation ceremony and was struck by the raw talent, confidence and passion these young people brought into the room.
As well as poets, photographers and artists, there were young people here eager to be part of the future of advertising. Each of the graduates set out their personal manifesto to an audience of leading figures from creative industries who might be able to help them with their next step.
They spoke eloquently and passionately and reminded us of the obstacles – both mental and physical – they face where they don’t feel they fit in or see people like themselves.
It really got me thinking.
It got me thinking of how agencies, when recruiting planners, often talk about the time and resource it takes to train juniors or people from outside a traditional planning background. Invariably, caution prevails and they end up hiring people ready trained though the red brick grad programmes. I believe that as an industry, we need to break this mould. Surely, we should be creating an environment conducive to attracting, nurturing and retaining talented people regardless of their cultural, geographical or ethnic background? Do we want to miss out on brilliant people simply because they chose to work in a sector they felt was more welcoming – and better resourced to support them – than ours?
Of course, I recognise that this calls for a big investment in resource and training. And I know that the lean, fast-paced, client brief-focused nature of creative comms agency life often prevents this. I don’t pretend to have the answer but I do believe that until we find a solution, we won’t improve on that 12.4% figure.
Perhaps a good place to start on this is to challenge our own biases and realise that diversity in background, life experience, insight and opinions give an organisation a competitive edge. They make a business more closely aligned to a varied customer base and target audience than one without a diverse workforce.
And it got me thinking about how the underrepresentation of people from diverse backgrounds affects those who are among the 12.4% in the creative industry. Imposter syndrome – being convinced that your achievements are down to pure luck and that you’ll soon be exposed as a fraud – affects people in all walks of life and advertising planners are no exception, whatever their ethnicity. Again, breaking down barriers and redressing the balance in our industry will go a long way to reducing imposter syndrome and its negative effects.
It was great to see an advertising agency teaming up with Yellowzine and giving the issue of diversity such a significant amount of its time and resource. It doesn’t stop here, though. Brooklyn Brothers and Yellowzine will be giving the graduates ongoing career support and mentorship. And as a recruiter, I’ll be offering advice, support to open more doors to those among them who want to build a career in the creative comms industry.
Strategy and planning is a particularly tough area to break into, especially if you can’t afford endless nonpaid internships or if you don’t know the right people.
Let’s see if we can change that. Because as George Bryant, Founding Partner (London) of The Brooklyn Brothers, said: “Diversity is about everyone in this room being different. That’s all.”