Surekha Ragavan
Nov 24, 2021

Risk of talent bleed in Apac for lack of diversity: WFA census

The Apac results from WFA’s first-ever DEI census reveal worrying factors of discrimination and a higher-than-global average of willingness for people to leave their companies—or the industry—if things don't improve


The first-ever DEI census by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has revealed stark results from the industry in APAC. The census, which gathered over 10,000 responses globally, was run by Kantar and supported by Campaign, the European Association of Communications Agencies, VoxComm, Advertising Week, Cannes Lions, Effies, GWI and IAA.

A major, albeit unexpected, finding from the APAC breakdown of the census is that the situation in Apac is mostly in line with the global industry average. For example, when respondents were asked about their sense of belonging, men globally scored at 69%, compared to women at 61%. In the seven APAC markets that were surveyed, 67% and 59%, respectively, indicated marginally poorer lived experiences. The seven markets are Hong Kong, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Singapore.  

The top criteria for discrimination in the region was family status, which is defined as childcare or caregiver responsibilities. Stephan Loerke, CEO of WFA, told Campaign Asia-Pacific he was “struck” by the fact that family status came out as a top factor for discrimination—ahead of age, gender and ethnicity. In this region, the cultural expectation of caregiving for elderly parents is also thrown into the mix.

But worryingly, 40% of women globally said that caregiving can hinder their careers. That number is marginally lower, at 37%, in Apac.

“When you think about 40%, we’re talking almost one in two. That's a very powerful learning,” said Loerke. “It reflects the reality of how society still operates, whether it's in Asia or other parts of the world. I think it's really important to put ourselves in front of those realities.”

Generally, women’s experiences are notably poorer than men’s, both globally and across Apac. For example, 8% of women respondents in Apac markets surveyed said they had been personally discriminated against due to their gender. Gender pay gaps across all markets—whether globally or in Apac—are also evident, with an 11% gap in favour of men at the C-suite level.

When it comes to ethnicity, 9% of ethnic minority respondents in Apac say they have been personally discriminated against at their company, but this figure varies significantly by market due to varying demographics and power dynamics. In some cases, such as Malaysia, the ethnic majority reported more discrimination than minorities because of race-based stereotypes, as the survey found that ethnic minorities, including expatriates, can often be paid more or take senior management positions.

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Overall across all factors of discrimination, Hong Kong and India were the only markets in APAC to score higher than the global average, with 66% and 68%, respectively, saying they had experienced discrimination (of any kind). Pulling India and Pakistan (63%) out of the calculation dropped the region’s average from 64% to 59% suggesting lived experiences in other markets surveyed may be considerably poorer than the global average. It’s unclear why Hong Kong, Pakistan, and India fared better than the other surveyed markets in APAC.

Some additional findings from the Apac breakdown of the census:

  • The lived experiences of people with disabilities are poorer in some but not all markets. Globally, 8% of disabled respondents say they have faced discrimination based on disability. The figure is 4% in Apac, and these respondents also tended to score lower for ‘I feel like I belong at my company’ than non-disabled respondents. No disabled respondents reported experiencing discrimination on the grounds of disability in Malaysia or Pakistan.
  • Mental-health issues are still taboo for many. Around 6% of respondents in APAC reported a long-term health condition and, of these, 70% said their condition related to mental health. However just 44% of them had made their employers aware of the issue. However, 52% agreed their employer was 'generally supportive’. The best performing market on this metric in Apac was Singapore, where 67% agreed.
  • Most reported that their organisations are taking active steps to address diversity and inclusion, but this sentiment varies greatly from market to market and the figure is lower in Apac than in the rest of the world: 60% of global respondents feel their company is working hard to become more diverse and inclusive while 53% of APAC respondents agreed. The US topped the global chart at 83%, with New Zealand (63%) and India and Singapore (58%) scoring best in Apac.
  • 32% of APAC respondents reported suffering from anxiety and stress during Covid-related lockdowns, which tallies closely with the global average of 33%.

Regardless of the results of each market, Loerke explained that there is sometimes a danger of extrapolating local action from global results.

“We're talking here about something that is so fundamental to socio-economic and cultural realities," he said. "You cannot translate any findings into local action without getting it fundamentally wrong. Action requires local buy-in. And this is why we want the research results to be actually owned by the local ad industry. We're going to be supporting the local ad industry in order to help share with them what we've seen work in other markets, but this can be for locals to decide what they feel is right.”

Loerke added that while there is clearly a global agenda based on the census results, the industry will need to bridge the global-local gap and empower local stakeholders to drive change.

“I'm seeing a lot of excitement and willingness in our industry, including at the local level, to make progress in that respect,” he said.

One of the most sobering findings from the report is that 23% of respondents in APAC markets are saying they are likely to leave their current company because of a perceived lack of diversity and inclusion in their workplace. That compares to a global average of 17%. Loerke said that this statistic only accentuates the operational consequences of the pandemic and the effects it has had on talent.

“When you look at the shortage of talent, we’re already suffering today," he said. "Just imagine what that would mean for the industry if we weren't able to address that head on."

Loerke added that if the industry doesn’t attempt to repair this issue, there will exist an increasing disconnect between the industry and the audiences it serves.

“Marketing is about connecting with the outside world and understanding it with sensitivity," he said. "If the population in charge of creating ads is disconnected, it's a recipe for failure. There's a long-term strategic interest for the industry to make sure that it is in sync with society.”

(This article first appeared on

Campaign India

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