It's more than 40 years since homosexuality was decriminalised and the Equal Pay Act was introduced in the UK, so it's somewhat dispiriting that diversity in the workplace remains such a challenge. Even at the end of last year, when the new parental leave legislation was announced - which gives fathers the opportunity to take off the same period of time off work as mothers - there was an outcry in some quarters; Alexander Ehmann, the Institute of Directors' deputy director of policy and public affairs, dubbed it a "nightmare".
Within the marketing community, our very own Power 100 has remained stubbornly stuck at comprising about 30% women for the past few years - and that's just the easiest of the "minorities" to count.
Yet the positive impact that diversity can make on companies' financial performance and growth prospects has been proven many times over. Why are we still even talking about it as an issue?
Nurturing a diverse workforce involves embracing the differences in our population and ensuring a supportive working environment for everyone, regardless of gender, race, creed, sexuality or disability. For the marketing industry, this is even more important, if the needs of the diverse customer sets are to be understood and met. So, is the answer to a representative workforce a matter of policy - introducing mentoring and coaching schemes, quotas and even regulation - or can a visionary, championing leader create that all-important inclusive culture?
Dr Gillian Shapiro, founder and managing director of Shapiro Consulting, which focuses on diversity, inclusion and organisational change, thinks it varies according to the business. She argues that initiatives or schemes can be limited, in that they don't always address the root cause of barriers. "Organisations need to look at their core culture to see the extent to which that's promoting inclusion and diversity or working against it," she says.
Business culture is raised repeatedly when diversity is debated, with some arguing that even the most visionary leader - if they are swimming against a tide of opinion entrenched throughout the business - is unlikely to be able to drive meaningful change. Mike Hoban, sales, marketing and ecommerce director at Thomas Cook, says: "It's the company culture that determines tolerance - some creative agencies struggle to be tolerant of anyone who lives outside (Transport for London's) Zone 1, never mind any other form of diversity. Look at some of the daily media to see the narrow-minded prejudice that still prevails."
Sometimes the most effective changes are not aimed at any one group, but rather are about striking a good balance for all. Raphael Mokades, managing director of recruitment consultancy Rare, which specialises in diversity in graduate-level recruitment, says: "Don't have an inclusion policy, have an inclusive culture."
"This means work/life balance, transparent processes for promotion and performance management, and a culture that allows people who, for example, don't drink alcohol to feel comfortable. It means promoting on merit, not fit, and giving people the time and space to be themselves. At one point, the Civil Service had 50% female permanent secretaries; it also has a culture where it's OK to leave the office at 5.30," he adds.
For many organisations, a preferred route has been to establish networks, such as for women, LGBT people, carers or different nationalities, as a way of encouraging camaraderie and support across levels and business units.
Claire Darley, whose background is in sales and marketing, is head of transformation at O2 and leads its Women's Leadership Network. It kicked off its Women in Leadership programme 18 months ago, bringing together about 30 women from its offices across Europe to look at the working practices that made the biggest difference to them, from avoiding long-hours cultures to flexible working for all.
What's interesting in this case is that the internal champion is a man. So while a management board bereft of diversity increasingly looks like a relic of some bygone era, it does not mean that there are not individuals capable of engendering real change.
"An all-white, male board can start an initiative," says Darley. "The sponsor for diversity in (O2) UK is Derek McManus. He's white, middle-aged and an engineer - and he's probably our biggest advocate. He got frustrated at not seeing more talented women going for jobs when less-talented men thought they were a shoe-in, and started listening and observing more closely. He's a great role model."
Best for business
The most potent case for diversity will come down to its impact on business performance. In 2011, Lord Davies' review of Women on Boards aimed for greater female representation in UK boardrooms. As of March 2013, women accounted for just over 17% of all directorships and 34% of all board appointments (45 out of 134 appointments) in FTSE 100 companies. Lord Davies' recommendation was that the UK should have 25% women on FTSE 100 boards by 2015 - so no fanfares yet.
"Since Lord Davies' report, there have been tangible business results such as increases in return on sales, and this is because you have different, balanced decision-making; it avoids groupthink (which can arise when everyone has the same cultural background and type of upbringing)," says Darley. "We have 23m customers, and if we are trying to understand their needs, we need to have them represented within the business."
Procter & Gamble has long been held up as an example of a business with a comprehensive diversity and inclusion strategy, and is one of lesbian, gay and bisexual rights charity Stonewall's founding partners in its Global Diversity Champions programme.
For the marketing community, what is so interesting about P&G's case is that it is grounded in good marketing strategy as well as good employee relations. Ensuring brand teams have a mix of gender, regardless of whom the product is aimed at, has been central to its brand-building for some time.
Roisin Donnelly, corporate marketing director at P&G, says: "Diverse teams build business more than those that aren't - what we see is up to 5% better growth. They're also better places to work. It doesn't matter who uses the product, there will still be different people purchasing it. For example, with Gillette, 70% (of the brand's products) are bought by women."
Effective diversity management covers all groups, not just those based on gender. But for leaders to negate unconscious bias some deep-rooted thinking has to be overcome.
"The adage (that you should) treat others as you would like to be treated is wrong; you need to treat them how they want to be treated. There are differences between men and women, ages, nationalities and how much people talk. Leaders must get everyone's ideas on the table so everyone contributes, then business results are better," adds Donnelly.
P&G's stats are impressive, showing that this level of commitment to diversity works: 50% of its sales function, 48% of finance and two-thirds of the marketing function are women. Its rate of women returning from maternity leave is 97%-99%.
Those in the LGBT community often face different issues from heterosexual colleagues. One preconception mentioned repeatedly by gay marketers is the notion that coming out was a one-off experience. "Coming out is a daily task. I know there are people I work with even now who will learn about my sexuality reading this article," says Hoban. "Equally, employers need to recognise that it's not their role to pry; the question of sexuality is mine to answer, not yours to ask. Create an environment in which an individual can bring their whole self to work and you will be a better business for it."
Jan Gooding, group brand director at Aviva, describes herself as ticking two of the main diversity boxes. "You are always working out when to introduce it into a conversation and when it is appropriate. It's easier to see people's colour or gender. You don't want to make a thing about it all the time. My aim, and the reason I am so involved with Stonewall, is to make it unremarkable," she explains.
"When I fell in love with a woman I was at British Gas, and it was out there. When I came to Aviva as marketing operations director, I chose not to be out. It's difficult to be senior in the City and be a lesbian - it's difficult enough to be a senior woman. So for the first year I was out at home, but not at work, and it absolutely affected my performance; I was not as effective because I was not myself. So I decided to come out and it transformed my performance and sense of happiness at work."
If the City environment is particularly tough, do other sectors embrace diversity more? Sheraz Dar, who has held several marketing director roles and is non-executive director of eMoov.co.uk, thinks there is little variation. "I've worked across FMCG, telecoms and in digital - I would largely say there isn't much real difference across industry sectors. If you broaden it to talk about marketing services and agencies, there is a lot more Asian and black representation in technology and ecommerce," he says.
In terms of the lack of Asian marketers, Dar thinks this can be attributed to the stereotype of family expectations about their children going into a "profession". "I'm first-generation born in the UK and historically there has been a preference to go into more established careers such as law, medicine, dentistry or finance," he explains.
Overall, however, Dar points to just how tough it is for any graduate to get into a good marketing role. "When I joined Britvic and Pepsi, there were 3000 applicants for the graduate programme which had 50 roles, only 12 of which were in marketing. So statistically it's going to be tough anyway; then you also need to look at the recruitment funnel, which is a certain type of person, who's gone to a certain university, done a certain degree and got a certain grade; at the top, from an ethnic minority perspective, it's quite small."
Recruitment is one area that P&G has sought to address. "We measure (recruitment intake) to make sure it's in balance with the university population and look at race, specifically going to universities with higher ethnic intakes," says Donnelly. "We look at the individual in the broadest sense - incomes, LGBT and so on - to ensure our recruitment teams on campus are diverse as well."
It was not easy to find marketers to speak about diversity for this feature, so do those willing to champion it from the standpoint of individual experience find it a chore sticking their heads above the parapet, leading the way and mentoring those who follow?
"My willingness to be a role model and mentor has encouraged others to come out," says Gooding. "I chair Pride Aviva, and Angela Darlington, our chief risk officer (who was number 15 in the Financial Times Top 50 OUTstanding in Business list), is much more out because Pride Aviva (which aims to help employees understand the LGBT community) existed. Some people think 'That's my private life', and I respect that position. But until it is unremarkable, I feel duty-bound to be out there for people."
Hoban feels a similar responsibility. "I'm able to be open about my sexuality because people before me, straight and gay, have fought for those rights. Everyone's circumstances are unique, but we are all better off as a community if we can share. We all have a responsibility to encourage, defend and demand diversity in the workplace."
The business imperative is strong: one in 16 consumers is lesbian, gay or bisexual; 18% of the working population have a disability; women own 48% of the nation's wealth; and ethnic minority spending power in the UK will soon top £300bn, according to Shapiro.
It's easy, when looking at how little progress has been made in some quarters, to adopt a negative narrative about diversity in a business context.
Far too many companies remain oblivious to, or blase about, their all-white, male boards, working environments where no one would dare admit to a gay relationship, and to ask for flexible working hours would be career suicide. For every anecdote of the all-male agency team that wasn't allowed in a meeting because its members weren't representative, there are tales of women defeated by a lack of family-friendly policies that ended their careers, but never their husbands'.
Nonetheless, as societal shifts become more accepted, the working environment will have to be representative. "We're undergoing a period of enormous change in society; the marketing industry is part of that. The legislative agenda has been transformational in addressing issues of equality. How that manifests itself, ever so gradually, in the marcomms framework is that it tends to follow rather than lead society," says Gooding.
DIVERSITY: FIRST-PERSON VIEW
Mike Hoban, Sales, marketing and ecommerce director, Thomas Cook
"It is people, not industries, that are more or less tolerant. I've seen great enlightenment and wild prejudice emerge from the most unlikely quarters. My best experience was the first time I joined a management board and the CEO had already prepared the way. My worst was as a guest of a major London media-buying agency at a Marketing Society dinner, where the MD was explicitly homophobic.
I wouldn't steer clear of certain industries, but there are people in this industry whom I'd advise lesbian and gay people not to work for. Successful businesses understand that embracing diversity, in all its forms, will lead to better individual performance and better business performance. I do think it is important to look at the track record of any potential employer - I would encourage anyone, gay or straight, to ask the following questions: how many women are there in senior positions, and how many senior managers are drawn from different ethnic backgrounds? It will tell you a lot about the kind of organisation you are joining.
As a reasonably seasoned marketer, I feel that I have a responsibility to make it easier for the next generation. History teaches us that a tolerant approach to diversity is not the norm. We must never take diversity for granted. I think we all have a responsibility to encourage, defend and demand it in the workplace. What is happening in Russia today could easily happen here if we are not vigilant.
I'm sure (my sexuality) has had an impact (on my career progression), but I can't tell you whether it's been net positive or net negative. There are times when I'm certain that it's counted against me, but, equally, there are many times when I know it has helped frame my terms of reference in such a way that I've been able to connect with colleagues, or bring a perspective that my bosses have valued."
Jan Gooding, Group brand director, Aviva
"My feeling is that gradually, over time, there's a normalising of being a gay person. We're getting away from the stereotype that all gay men are camp and lesbians are 'dykey'. But we're not there yet, and many are self-conscious talking about it; it's easier not to talk about it at all. People tend to talk about race and gender, but they are more squeamish about the LGBT agenda. There's an issue of people not knowing how to talk about it for fear of unwittingly causing offence. But my experience, in terms of reaction to me, has been extremely positive.
When I came out at Aviva, I was the most senior woman to do so in our 300-year history. It was made possible as I was lucky to have a very supportive boss in Amanda Mackenzie.
HR policies are really important to get in place. They don't get signed off unless executive committees and boards buy in; so they demonstrate top-down management buy-in and support. It's enormously helpful to have the opportunity to network with other LGBT colleagues, and big organisations such as Aviva can have an LGBT network and encourage staff to attend other educational and networking events such as those run by Stonewall.
Treating that as a legitimate part of the people agenda - to encourage the LGBT workforce to be at one with oneself - requires some investment, like any other coaching and training.
Senior role models are important: to be out and visible and participate. We are giving a lot of thought to unconscious bias: it's about how we respond to people. We all need to get better educated on race, gender and so on - we tend to relate to people like ourselves. So I know I still have a lot to learn, like everyone else."
The article first appeared on www.marketingmagazine.co.uk
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