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‘Average is not good enough’: Advertising Council’s DE&I census results show progress is slow

Australia’s advertising industry has made significant DE&I progress on several fronts, however its overall Inclusion Index Score has decreased, according to the results from the Advertising Council Australia’s (ACA) latest Create Space Census.

The latest census found that females dominate across all five census levels: C-suite/executive management, senior staff, middle management, junior management and intern/junior executive. Since ACA’s 2021 census, there has been an 8% increase of females in C-suite/executive management roles.

35% of the census respondents say they’ve noticed significant changes that have positively impacted diversity and inclusion in their company over the last two years, and overall awareness of companies’ DE&I strategies and policies has increased by 6 percentage points, to 59%.

Gender representation. Source: ACA Create Space census 2023 [Click to enlarge]

“Over the past two years, significant effort, time, and money have been invested in creating inclusive workplaces and progressive policies,” said Hannah Sturrock, ACA national head of engagement.

“Awareness of inequality and underrepresentation has increased notably. Create Space is here to ensure we remain vigilant and continue to grow both as individuals and as an industry.”

Small improvements have been made in discrimination and sexual harassment, with casual discrimination falling 4 percentage points, and sexual harassment dropping from 8% to 6% for females over the past 12 months.

There has been a 6 percentage point increase in people sharing mental and physical health challenges with employers, and a 5 percentage point increase in LGBTQIA+ people who are ‘out’ at work.

Rose Herceg, ACA’s D&I Committee Chair, and WPP ANZ President, said it is encouraging to see some positive changes.

“These are wins. Progress is progress, especially as part of a long-term program that aims to drive systematic change over time,” she explained.

“However, there is a perception gap that exists across the industry, with those most likely to report positive changes belonging to the C-suite, being aged over 45, or identifying as heterosexual or male.

“That means the groups most affected by the lack of inclusion and representation are not feeling positive change as much. We need action that makes a difference to all people at all levels,” Herceg added.

Mental health. Source: ACA Create Space census 2023 [Click to enlarge]

The industry’s overall Inclusion Index Score has dropped from 62 to 56, driven by a lower sense of belonging and an increase in negative behaviour. The score was driven down by perceptions of bias around hiring and career progression, insufficient support for skills development, and feeling undervalued compared to colleagues.

According to ACA, this mirrors a global trend of declining scores – reported in eight out of 12 markets between 2019-2022. The current global advertising, marketing, PR and market research industry benchmark is 54.

Almost one in five still say they’re likely to leave the industry due to a lack of inclusion or discrimination – similar to 2021’s results.

“The future of Australian advertising is reliant upon a wide variety of people feeling that they are included and listened to. Average is not good enough,” said Tony Hale, ACA CEO.

“However, the green shoots in the data suggest our strategy is correct and industry leaders are increasingly aware of the importance of DE&I. We must now stay the course.

“It’s brilliant to see female representation at senior levels growing steadily and we now know we have to address equitable career development and training, particularly for people managers, as key drivers of inclusion,” he said.

Sturrock concluded: “Australia’s ad industry has done a good job updating its policies and approach to DE&I but the work must continue to translate strategy and intent into action and accountability at all levels, not just the C-suite where the most change is being seen.

“The six actions in the Create Space Action Plan have proven to be an effective framework. We urge the
industry to use them to reflect and reset, as we continue to foster a sense of belonging in the workplace.”

The survey ran in November 2023 and received almost 2,500 responses. It used Kantar’s Inclusion Index to benchmark performance. It acts as a second wave, building on ACA’s 2021 Create Space census, which inspired an in-depth report, action plan and suite of tools to help companies make headways on DE&I.

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