“EMPLOYERS WANT THE BEST STAFF WORKING FOR THEM, AND IF THEY REALISE THEY’VE GOT A REP PROBLEM THEN THAT STARTS TO HAVE AN EFFECT”
provide recommendations. It’s crucial that you don’t base changes on the experience of non-disabled employee assumptions.”
THE SECOND SEX
“The drop off in women in advertising and design is huge,” says Casey Bird, president of SheSays, a networking organisation for women in the creative industries. “This is often because of a lack of support when it comes to motherhood and flexible work-life balance. This makes many women think, ‘What’s the point?’ and sack it off.” In 2015, SheSays launched its Who’s Your Momma mentoring scheme (WYMM), which pairs female creatives at different levels of their careers, to provide a soundboard on challenges such as how to ask for pay rises or deal with gender bias. “Until I started working at SheSays, I could barely count the number of senior women I knew on one hand,” recalls Bird. “Programmes like WYMM really help break the cycle.”
Roshni Goyate, co-founder of The Other Box – a platform for increasing diversity in creative industries – agrees: “I specifically wanted a brown, female, working class, not privately educated senior person as a mentor,” she says. “I asked everyone I knew, and most had basically never worked with another person of colour. It made me feel like I have no place in this industry. I honestly thought about quitting and starting a whole new career.”
Mentoring schemes can also be run internally. King, the games company behind Candy Crush Saga, runs a scheme called Women@King, which promotes equal opportunities for women in gaming. King is also involved with RoyaLGBT & Friends, a global network that supports LGBT+ employees and allies.
Interestingly, King has recently started reframing ‘diversity’ as ‘inclusion’. “With inclusion, we look as whether people feel respected and valued,” says the company’s diversity and culture manager Natalie Mellin, who also points out that people usually fit into more than one ‘category’. “From an intersectional perspective, I’m not just a woman – I also have a sexual orientation, a skin colour, and so on,” she says. “There will be different issues for gay women, for black women.”
This thinking has also bled into King’s products. In its workshop scheme called Crush The Norm, designers can identify ways they are portraying gender or race (even in squirrels) and learn to challenge stereotypes. “There’s a growth in the type of people that are gamers today because of the mobile phone,” explains Mellin. “We want everyone to feel included.”
Agency ustwo has also made a conscious move towards gender equality. Designed to disrupt the statistic that only 12 per cent of creative directors in London are female, ustwo’s new leadership programme for female employees involves women sitting in on all leadership meetings. “If you see how decisions are made, you’re more likely to think, ‘I can do that’,” says Fuchs. In March, the studio announced that male and female employees can now both take the same maternity leave – six months paid leave – and in the past year they’ve reduced their gender pay gap from 13 per cent to 3.5 per cent by in-depth analysis of pay difference and why it happens. The studio regularly blogs about their diversity challenges and strategies – something Pun stresses is important. “Your accessibility and diversity champions should actively attend events and share stories on social media.” This is
not bragging or virtue signalling, but a way to flag to designers from under-represented group that your company would be an inclusive place to work.
Both Sairah Ashman – Wolff Olin’s newly appointed (and first female) CEO – and Ije Nwokorie, who she succeeds, suggest that part of overcoming the disparity between the number of female employees and female leaders is redefining what those top jobs look like. “You have to be honest enough to interrogate why women are not attracted to that position,” says Nwokorie. Ashman adds: “I’m a relatively quiet person, you wouldn’t hold me up as a poster woman for leadership, but at Wolff Olins, we’ve broadened the platform enough that you can pull up lots of different people and points of view.”
To address this, employees could reconsider increasing employees’ access to training and experiment with reverse mentoring, where the creative director shadows a junior employee to see where issues may be arising. Clear goals for progression and promotion can help and, in case things go wrong, make sure your HR support is as independent as possible.
Knowing your own value is also integral for those from under-represented groups. It can help to push the industry to value diversity more widely. “Embrace your cultural identity; it’s not necessarily a barrier,” says Bunbury. “In all things you do, you should be drawing from a wide creative cultural palette, it’s the thing that will give you uniqueness and make your work stand out,” he explains.
Self-promotion and putting yourself forward may also deter some people. “At the beginning of my career I struggled to speak out,” says Roz Fraser, senior designer at GBH, “but I’ve been fortunate to work under both men and women who have pushed me, and now I feel a lot more confident at self-promotion.” Alice Tonge, head of 4creative, agrees: “If someone shoots you down you’ve got to keep on going. Be resilient and relentless.” Resources like Otegha Uwagba’s new title Little Black Book are invaluable for creative women – and indeed all creatives – in developing strategies for things that hold them back.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
When you’re not in a managerial role or are self-employed, it may feel like changing an industry-wide diversity issue is out of your grasp, but there are lots of things you can do. “Talk about it,” says Kath Tudball, design director at The Partners. “Notice hidden biases and inequalities and speak up about them.” From calling out offensive office ‘banter’ or refusing to sit on judging panels or give talks unless there’s a representative mix of people to asking new employees whether they’re okay with whatever pronoun you have assumed to use, being open and honest is a good way to start being an ally. Push clients to rethink their audience or include more diverse faces in their campaigns, and draw on resources like illustration network Women Who Draw (where you can find female, LBTQ+ or people of colour specialist illustrators), racially diverse photo library Autograph Media and stereotype-bashing modelling agencies, such as Campbell Addy’s Nii Agency.
Uwagba, who founded the creative networking platform Women Who, says that even freelancers have the ability to make a difference. “It’s about the companies you endorse. Vote with your feet. Employers want the best staff working for them and if they realise they’ve got a rep problem then that starts to have an effect.”
Neckles sums up why you should be addressing diversity: “If you’re serious about existing, then you should be serious about widening the pool of people that you work with and learn from.”