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Why Diversity Is Right For Brands—And Makes Business Sense

Last year at Cannes Lions, I made an impassioned plea for gender equality. Not that it’s the first time I, or our industry, has brought up the diversity question. Over the past few years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a conference, event, or festival where diversity isn’t a top talking point. Most big companies and firms say they’re on board with equality. We often see leaders openly talking about addressing the pay gap, reaching quotas with executive hires, and other equality initiatives.

Progress can take time, and a lot of what we’re hearing in our industry and the larger business community is encouraging. But we cannot rest on our laurels. Empty talk will not do. While we make incremental steps forward, there are other diversity and inclusion issues that are falling by the wayside. If we’re to achieve equality, we have to look at the true scope of the issue.

Recent figures show that, in the U.K, 46.3% of working-age disabled people are in employment compared to 76.4% of working-age non-disabled people. Nearly 42% of transgender people are not permanently living in their correct gender, for fear it could threaten their employment status. There exists an average pay gap of 17% between those from working class backgrounds and those from more affluent families. These statistics might be a local snapshot, but these types of disparities are all too common across the globe. They should be troubling to any of us who believe in true diversity and inclusion.

And we should all believe strongly in the power of equality, aside from the mere fact that it’s the right thing to do. There is also a strong business case to be made for diversity, both at the very top of an organisation and throughout its ranks. It goes far beyond simply checking off boxes to look good in public. McKinsey found that ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to financially outperform those who aren’t, while gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to do so.

The companies that are lagging behind aren’t all doing so out of prejudice or spite. We all have unconscious biases. Left to our own devices, we often can make a series of decisions that result in a homogenous leadership team or a narrow-minded creative output. Even if our intentions are good, we may not even realise that we’re closing ourselves off to the voices of so many who will present great ideas, criticism, and the deeper-level thinking necessary to succeed.

That is precisely why it’s so important to bring diversity and inclusion to the centre of every discussion. One should look no further than the widely derided Pepsi ad that featured Kendall Jenner taking part in a protest movement. The folks who came up with that idea likely thought they had a home run on their hands, otherwise they wouldn’t have completed the process of making the work. But one can’t help but watch that ad and think that more diverse voices in the room, those who bring a different life experience and provide a different perspective, might have saved the final product from itself. It’s an example of how not actively seeking out the expertise that all people can provide ups the risk of becoming tone deaf, a tag no business wants to be labelled with. How can we truly connect with consumers if everything from our boardroom to the editing room doesn’t look and think like the actual world around us?

How a company projects itself to the outside world is, by no means, the only concern. The only way to have diverse thought is to hire diverse and to treat all employees equally. One of my favourite quotes from the founder of our agency, David Ogilvy, is: “In recruitment and promotion, we are fanatical in our hatred for all forms of prejudice.” Like much of David’s thinking, it was ahead of its time, and should act as a rallying cry for everyone who is serious about having a truly diverse workforce that is treated equally. Companies must make sure they offer everyone a fair chance of getting the role, salary, and chance to voice their opinions, otherwise they will miss out on crucial talent.

For the top decision-makers in a business, it may be second nature to want to find the next version of yourself to work with or, eventually, take over for you. While not ill-intentioned, it’s that type of thinking that can lead to a cycle that not only makes a business seem out of touch, but also hurts the bottom line by keeping valuable voices on the outside. And as we fight to keep the equality conversation moving forward and spur on real change, we must keep in mind how, well, diverse of an issue equality truly is.

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