Adland Commits: one year on, and we’re still waiting for change


One year on since the brutal murder of George Floyd. Almost one year on since the Adland Commits open letter. One year on and the question is: have we seen the change we were looking for from our sector? 

To hold the 500-plus senior leader signatories accountable, we conducted two surveys, one in September 2020, and one six months on. The research identified three key areas of concern around transparency with ethnicity pay gap (EPG) reporting, senior leadership support and black talent progression. So, where are we at? 

Measurement is a crucial marker for showcasing progress to everyone in the business. We’re starting to make headway, with 57% of the leadership team’s KPIs and objectives now incorporating explicit diversity metrics, and this is up 19 percentage points compared with last year.

However, when we look at ethnicity pay gap reporting, only 29% claim this data is collected, albeit up from 22% last year. The question is, why are the other 71% not measuring this change-critical data and sharing it publicly? We saw the impact mandatory gender pay gap reporting had. Go one step further and incorporate ethnicity pay gap reporting into leadership KPIs. Pay equity is social justice. 

What is alarming is how leadership support appears to be waning. There is a decline in the number of companies that report every member of their leadership team is using company channels to share black resources and diversity initiatives. Only 14% agreed this is happening in their business, compared with 25% in September 2020.

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Change happens when the leadership team is aligned, and role modelling and communicating inclusive, anti-racist behaviours. This trend is seen with the 23% decline in our senior leader sample size for this survey. Why is momentum waning? Without senior leader commitment to this, none of the initiatives will succeed. The responsibility lies with senior leaders, as to what they sponsor, endorse, prioritise and invest. 

The latest data shows we still have a representation challenge across all levels of the business. At senior leadership level there is only 3% black talent at the top, and one in five companies admits it has no plans to do a composition check of its leadership team.

If we look across the whole business, we’re at 5% black talent representation, and with a London sample skew, we all know that’s well off the 13% mark we should be aiming for. While the reality of Covid has had implications for recruitment and progression, with 30% agreeing Covid-19 has affected their plans, this is no excuse. If you’re serious about diversifying your workforce, attracting black talent and ensuring you create inclusive cultures where your black talent want to stay, you’ll do something about it. 

Mentors and sponsors matter: so where are they? 

One solution to lead the way are mentors and sponsors. 46% now offer mentoring programmes for black talent, up from 30% last year, or sponsor programmes to champion black talent, now at 40%. If you can’t run a programme, direct your black talent to industry networks such as MeFa with their industry mentoring programme or our talent programme Accelerate. 

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Now 74% agree they have seen a change in the culture of their business since signing the Open Letter, an increase of 13 percentage points since last year. Before we celebrate, I’d like to add a caveat, this is a self-selecting sample of senior leaders marking their own homework, with many opting out. This is their perception of how they are approaching the 10 actions and the impact of it on their talent. We need an employee comparison data point to understand the true impact, which we will gain from Media For All over the coming months. 

Dismantling racism won’t end in a year 

This is a long-haul journey, but if you prioritise publicly reporting your EPG, holding senior leadership accountable and investing in black talent progression I guarantee we will make sustainable gains. 

The murder of George Floyd was a wake-up moment that resounded across the world and in the homes and businesses of everyone under lockdown. We owe it to his memory – and the many other black men and women murdered due to systemic racism – to ensure we keep moving forwards with actions, not words, long into 2022 and beyond. 

Stephanie Matthews is senior business director at Creative Equals



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