Gideon Spanier
Oct 18, 2021

'Stark' results of ad industry's first global inclusion census

“No company or industry can ignore this,” WFA says

'Stark' results of ad industry's first global inclusion census

Women and ethnic minorities working in advertising have “poorer lived experiences” than men and ethnic majorities, age and family status are the most common forms of reported discrimination, and 17% of people say they plan to leave their current company because of a lack of inclusion.

Those are some of the key findings from the World Federation of Advertisers’ first global diversity, equity and inclusion census, which identified “major challenges” across the ad industry.

“No company or industry can ignore this,” Stephan Loerke, chief executive of the World Federation of Advertisers, said, adding the “onus” is on the whole sector to make improvements by the time of the next survey in 2023.

More than 10,300 people and 27 countries took part in the online census, which was run by Kantar and supported by Campaign, the European Association of Communications Agencies, VoxComm, Advertising Week, Cannes Lions, Effies, GWI and IAA.

Detailed results from the census showed some “huge” variations by country—with some markets “significantly below the global average” when it comes to tackling discrimination.

Despite these “serious concerns”, the organisers of the census pointed out that advertising still ranked better than other industries globally in Kantar’s inclusion index, a ranking that measures sense of belonging, absence of discrimination and presence of negative behaviours in companies.

The 27 countries that participated in the census were: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France, Greece, the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE), Hong Kong, China, India, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States.

The UK was not involved because it ran its own “All In” Census, administered by Kantar, earlier this year. That survey was used as a model for much of the WFA’s work.

Key findings:

  • Men working in advertising scored 69% compared to women at 61%, according to Kantar’s inclusion index, which showed how women have less of a sense of belonging and have encountered more discrimination and negative behaviours.
  • The most common forms of discrimination were family status and age, with 27% agreeing that their company does not treat all employees fairly regardless of family status and 27% agreeing that their company does not treat all employees equally regardless of age.
  • 36% of respondents agreed that age can hinder one’s career while 40% of women agreed that family status can hinder one’s career—further evidence that “women’s experiences are notably poorer than men’s”, the WFA said.
  • There is “strong evidence” of a gender pay gap in some markets—with an average 11% gap in favour of men at the C-Suite level. In the US and Canada, the gap is worst among industry starters with a 13% gap in the US and a 20% gap in Canada.
  • Ethnic minorities also scored lower on key questions such as “feel like I belong at my company” than ethnic majority groups in nearly all markets. In the US, 17% say they have faced discrimination based on their racial background. “In a number of markets this is also reflected by a pay gap,” the WFA said. “However, in many markets surveyed, ethnic minorities or foreign nationals reported being paid more than the ethnic majority.”
  • Lack of diversity and inclusion is a serious concern with 17% saying “they were likely to leave their current company of as a result of the lack of inclusion and/or discrimination they had experienced”. Almost as many people, 15%, said they would leave the industry. Women were more likely than men to say they would leave their company or the industry, the data showed.
  • 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 and they also tend to score lower against “feel like I belong at my company” than non-disabled respondents.
  • “Mental health issues are still taboo for many”, the census found. Around 7% of respondents globally reported a long-term health condition and of these 71% said they related to mental health. However, just 44% of them had made their employers aware of the issue.
  • Sense of belonging varies widely. The global average for “company sense of belonging” is 68%—with a “wide range” of performance, with Sweden scoring best on 76% and the bottom market achieving just 53%. There was also variation between different groups. In the US, the score averages 66%, peaking at 71% among white respondents and compared to 59% among ethnic minorities.
  • Most respondents (60%) reported that their employer is “taking active steps to address diversity and inclusion” but again this sentiment varies by country and by ethnic group. The US topped the chart at 83%, although there was a 14-percentage point difference between white respondents and those from ethnic minorities. In some countries, the figures are significantly lower. In one market, only 26% of respondents believed their organisation was taking active steps to address diversity and inclusion.
  • There is a lot of variation between markets. “One of the starkest learnings from the survey is the extent to which some countries reported figures significantly below the global averages when it comes to the absence of discrimination and presence of negative behaviours,” the WFA said. “This is particularly noticeable when it comes to reviewing the responses from women in these same markets. These differences also corroborate systemic issues in some countries where there have been longstanding societal problems around gender, race and/or ethnicity.”
  • Advertising (64%) performed better in the rankings than other sectors such as pharmaceuticals and education (both on 60%), professional services (59%), retail (58%), financial services (53%), public sector (50%), travel and transport (49%), construction and property (42%), manufacturing (38%) and technology and telecoms (35%), according to Kantar’s inclusion index.

Industry reaction

Advertising leaders said the results of the census showed the industry must make progress by the time of the next survey, which is already planned for spring 2023.

Stephan Loerke, chief executive of the WFA, said. “This has been a Herculean but long overdue effort. For the very first time we hear and see the marketing industry in all its different facets and nuance. There is a confidence and strong sense of belonging that rings true of the marketing industry. But there are significant minorities in all countries saying they witness negative behaviours and discrimination on account of their age, family status, gender, ethnicity, race, disability, mental health, sexuality... such that one in seven considers leaving the industry.

“No company or industry can ignore this. A line has been drawn in the sand and we now know where progress must be made. The onus on us all now is to work together to make our industry fairer, more diverse and more inclusive—and to measure our common progress in a second wave in the spring of 2023.”

Belinda Smith, chief executive of M/SIX for the Americas and WFA global diversity ambassador, said: “This research represents a critical first step in holding the industry accountable to something many claim are important for their companies and brands: diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“For decades we have watched as companies and industries pledge to do better, and for many this pledge has not had a meaningful impact on their lived experiences including their safety and ability to earn a living in an environment free of discrimination. I am thrilled to see this first start and benchmark data. Our message to the industry for wave 2 [in 2023] is clear, ‘Put your measurement where your pledge is.’”

Jerry Daykin, senior media director, EMEA at GSK Consumer Healthcare Marketing and WFA global diversity ambassador, said: “Whilst there are some positive takeaways the research does highlight that for many individuals the marketing industry is not as inclusive nor as welcoming a place as we know it needs to be.

“Through some of our wider work with the WFA we’ve been exploring the power of representative creative output and we know that that starts by listening to representative voices and having diverse opinions from our teams.

“This first in-depth survey to look at both the diversity of our global industry and also how included people feel within it is a critical step towards moving us forwards. Of course, what we now need is continued and greater action to ensure the results are stronger when we next see them.”

Tamara Daltroff, president of Voxcomm, said: “There is only one limitation to sustainable growth: Talent. If we want to be an attractive industry to thrive in, we must listen, acknowledge, and act upon the problems of those who are at the heart of the advertising and comms world. With this first-ever industry ambition in the shape of the Global DEI Census, we now know exactly where the issues lie and, at the same time, we are presented with an opportunity to overcome the biggest challenges.”

Gareth Rees, head of CX partnership services, insight division at Kantar, said: “The marketing industry shows itself to be relatively progressive at first glance. But scratch beneath the surface and there is a myriad of stories of suffering.

“Common themes arise again and again: discrimination against care givers and the old and the young, women and minorities living poorer work experiences and stark inequalities between cohorts and countries.

“This survey shines a light on those stories so that action can be taken to address them. There is a business and moral imperative to do so.”

The WFA did not identify the worst-performers in the initial census results. It is expected to release more data for individual markets and regions over the coming days and weeks.

(This article first appeared on

Campaign India

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