By Ciara O'Meara
She Says. Says what? That’s what you’ll be thinking if you’ve never heard of this non-profit global organisation. She Says was the brainchild of Laura Jordan-Bambach (ex-D&Ad president and current ECD of Mr. President) to encourage creative women in the ad industry. Why? Because there’s only 3% of us at the very top. Not great reading for all the eager fresh-faced talent at the bottom.
After attending She Says events for years I joined the committee of this fierce group of women two years ago (insert bra-burning, ‘women’s bitch group’ joke here - I’ve heard them all.) Now I help to organise the free events, talks and workshops they offer each month.
This month I organised an event called Creating Diversity at Iris London. Diversity, the dodgy “D” word that either no one knows how to define or - in our industry's case - would like it to sort itself out and go away. But it won’t!
Ask yourself: when is the last time you worked with someone who was black, working class,a religious minority or disabled? Or with someone who was all of the above? The odds are high you’ll say once or never. We’re surrounded by middle class white blokes with nice accents and expensive clothes. The work is getting as bland as the people.
Don’t believe me? To give you more context, The Drum did a survey on our industry last year in the UK and found that; 86% of the industry said they were white, only 7% are gay and lesbian, just 4% have a mental or physical disability and sadly 30% reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace.
We need a reality check fast!
I went out to find who gives a crap. I’m thankful to say I found awesome and inspiring people; Laura (our She Says Founder) also now the Founder of The Great British Diversity Experiment; James Hillhouse, the force behind Commercial Break; Turly Humphreys, Founder of CircleCollective.org, and Sue Higgs, Group CD at Havas Helia; Tracy Whamond, John Dore and Mark Oben-Pepra, who have set up the Fast Forward Programme at OMD and Chris De Abreu, Creative Director at Iris London who champions international creative talent.
The night - a roaring success! A debate kicked off at the end, which was made better as it brought to light the elephants in the room:
1. The majority of the speakers were white. As the organiser, this was because it was very hard to find a diverse group willing to speak, a vicious circle that needs to change.
2. Tokenism and box ticking. Things that might look like diversity, but are far from it!
3. ‘White person complex’. Watch out for those who have it, they’re not as helpful as they really look.
4. Young people feel misrepresented; either people think they’re not driven, or they’re given labels like “urban: which are insulting and unrelatable.
5. Brands are getting more out of touch with the youth of today. They need to hear a few home truths from the ground. That’s why we need them in our agencies.
6. Don’t change once you’re in. Agencies can be full of douchebags - you might feel the need to try be one too to fit in. Don’t!
7. It’s not enough to just talk. We need to connect the doers so they can build on this conversation.
8. Lastly, the talent is there. They just need the cash.
Coming from a single parent background, there was no money to waste on me having a laugh interning in an agency. I needed to get a job. I was lucky and got into the industry in Dublin, a way cheaper place than London. First off, we had free education when I went to college - a loan could easily be paid off with a weekend job. I got paid €250 a week interning and was hired with an OK salary after 3 months. I could survive and afford to buy a drink and bag of Hunky Dorys. I was laughing and so was my mother. But now, it can cost up to £15k to do a well-known advertising course.
How do we get around this?
One way is to create a fund. My ambition is to start a pot of money for talented youngsters who really need and deserve it! Organisations like Commercial Break already identify the ones who need it. We just need to help. There are many people in this industry who receive high wages. They can likely spare £100 or more. If you’d be interested in donating or helping me create this platform, please get in touch.
Part 2 of 'Creating Diversity' will be in October 2016 at OMD, London. If you would like to know more about any of the speakers or be part of the next event, email Ciara: firstname.lastname@example.org