“When all think alike, then no-one is thinking”
The latest edition of Good Morning Sunshine brought people together for coffee at Soho House to discuss diversity, the lack of it in creative industries and what action needs to be taken. Hosted by Nadya Powell, managing director of Sunshine and co-founder of The Great British Diversity Experiment, the panel included Jonathan Akwue, CEO Lost Boys, trustee Black Cultural Archives; Andrew Barratt, head of Ogilvy Pride, and Hussain Manawer, social entrepreneur, campaigner, poet.
Jonathan opened the conversation with a statement on firsts:
“It took the advertising industry until 2003 to write the first report on diversity” — Jonathan Akwue
For such a ‘forward-thinking’ industry, the date is shockingly late. Particularly when there’s a clear business case for it: the common-sense argument is that the creative industries need to be able to reflect their communities. But how is that achievable by a group of similar people sitting around a table with a similar perspective? As Jonathan articulates; “diversity creates lateral thinking and innovative ideas. We’re in the ideas business and need to thrive on it.”
“Everyone was talking about diversity but I couldn’t see any changes being made” — Andrew Barratt
Andrew decided to take affirmative action. With partners Stonewall and the support of Sir Martin Sorrell and Lord Browne, Andrew launched Ogilvy Pride, a division providing insight and inclusivity in both agency culture and client communications: “Ogilvy Pride sends a message that we’re an open, honest and caring workplace”. In 2015, they launched a campaign for Tiffany & Co. featuring a same-sex proposal — a first for the jeweller in its 178-year advertising history, and three months before same-sex marriage was legalised in the USA.
“The diversity issue first hit me when I saw ‘High School Musical’ — how’s that representative of a school?” — Hussain Manawer
For Hussain, it was whilst watching a popular teen movie that the diversity issue first hit him. It’s yet another example of the misrepresentation of a multicultural society in popular culture. Many feel alienated by advertising, from irrelevant content to not knowing a ‘way in’ to the industry. Jonathan “knew advertising existed, but not how to get into it”, and as a result he is passionate about working with schools to publicise it as a career-path. The result of such work? Jonathan is seeing more diverse recruitment come to life and is sowing the seed for years to come.
It also flags up an issue that has been around as long as popular culture itself: cultural appropriation. As Jonathan articulated; “From a black perspective, we are used to having our stuff appropriated by other people. “Everyone wants to sing my blues, nobody wants to live them.” The issues surrounding taking from a culture, reaping the rewards yet not giving back is one that’s widely debated. The creative industries are a prime example of enjoying the riches of various cultures without acknowledging the debt owed to them.
Hussain raised another important point with regards to education; the need to address the big stigma that is attached to mental health. “If you break your leg, everyone wants to sign your cast. Why is it different with mental health issues? We need to reinvent the stigma.” People are still uncomfortable when it comes to addressing mental health problems, and the way to change that is to start talking about it as early as possible. Start the conversation in schools. In doing so, it will open up the conversation and empower people to say when they don’t feel okay. Make it contemporary, make it cool, and turn the stigma on its head.
So, what’s next? Taking action. Whilst it’s great that discussions are taking place, everyone agreed that we need to stop violently agreeing and start doing. Andrew, Jonathan and Hussain are all taking positive steps towards raising awareness and creating more diverse creative communities. Nadya is currently running The Great British Diversity Experiment to prove the positive effects of a more diverse workplace. There are plenty of ways to get involved in the drive towards creating a more open, welcoming and relevant advertising, technology and communications industry. Let’s join it.
If you’d like to get involved, here are some recommended links to ways of developing a more diverse workplace:
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