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The Ad Industry Still Needs Work on Workplace Inclusion

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The advertising industry has failed to make any tangible progress since 2021 in building workplaces that are diverse, equitable and inclusive according to the World Federation of Advertisers’ (WFA) Global DEI Census.

Following on from the marketing body’s inaugural 2021 study, the 2023 report interviewed 13,000 marketers from 160 brands and agencies across 91 countries at varying levels of seniority.

The study found that 1 in 7 people would leave the industry based on a lack of DEI progress, a figure unmoved since 2021 despite industry-wide commitments and efforts to increase diversity and retain talent.

Among women and LGBTQ+ respondents, this figure rose to 1 in 6. For ethnic minorities it sat at 1 in 5. Along with disabled people, these three groups reported the worst lived experiences in the industry overall compared to their counterparts.

Though the needle hasn’t moved, there is widespread recognition that efforts are being made by businesses with nearly three quarters (72%) of global marketers saying their company was “actively taking steps” to be more diverse and inclusive. Opinion on progress was split, with 50% saying things had improved since 2021, 30% said things remained the same and 3% said things were worse.

C-suite management were more likely to have a positive outlook on this, with 58% saying DEI efforts were yielding fruit versus 42% of junior staff.  

WFA chief executive (CEO) Stefan Loerke said the results were “glass half empty, glass half full”.

“We are not hugely surprised to see no measurable change across the global industry in just two years because the challenges are so deep rooted and systemic,” he added.

The challenges are so deep rooted and systemic, they take time to overcome.

—Stefan Loerke, CEO, WFA

Loerke said the industry may not have moved the dial globally, but underscored that efforts are visible.

“In time, our efforts will be rewarded with more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces where the best talent will flock,” he said.

Progress stalling when it comes to inclusion

Critically, marketers indicated inclusion efforts had gone backwards.

Respondents were asked questions about their sense of well-being, an absence of discrimination and presence of negative behaviors to inform an “inclusion index” score generated by researchers at Kantar. In 2021 the average score was 64% across all three categories, in 2023 it dropped to 63%.

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