Does marketing have a diversity problem?

The marketing and advertising sector is evolving extremely rapidly with an influx of new technology and an increased focus on data rather than pure creativity. One of the key challenges the industry faces is attracting the next generation of marketers and, in an industry not renowned for its diversity, appealing to people from all walks of life is becoming a priority.

Just how diverse is the marketing sector and how can we overcome the barriers to a more inclusive industry?

How diverse is marketing?

One of the main problems in addressing diversity within the marketing sector is that there is relatively little industry-wide research on the current range of employees.

One of the few characteristics that we do have hard data on is gender. According to the ONS, the split between male and female employees has remained fairly even over the last four years (44% of marketing employees were female in 2017 compared to 47% of total UK employees).

Marketing & Advertising Employees by Gender

Source: Office of National Statistics, Employment by Occupation

However, once you focus on director-level employees, the picture changes dramatically; in 2017 only 29% of marketing or advertising directors were women. In fact, a report by the business consultancy Grant Thornton estimated that only 8% of CMOs worldwide are female. Combined with the fact that part-time employees in the industry are 5 times more likely to be female than male, this means that the gender pay gap for marketing employees is unlikely to get narrower soon.

Marketing & Advertising Directors by Gender

Source: Office of National Statistics, Employment by Occupation

We also have figures on the age of marketing and advertising employees. The majority of marketers are aged between 25 to 44 – 55% of marketing employees are in this age bracket, as opposed to 45% of the total UK workforce. It appears that the industry is both failing to bring in younger employees who will become the marketing professionals of the future, and losing older marketing talent. Again, as age increases the percentage of female employees falls dramatically.

Marketing & Advertising Employees by Age Group

Source: Office of National Statistics, Employment by Occupation

Data on ethnic diversity, LGBT and disabilities in the marketing and advertising workforce is much less readily available. A survey of advertising agencies from the IPA found that 12.9% of their employees are from a BAME (Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic Group) background. While this seems fairly representative of the 13% of the UK population who are BAME, the picture varies dramatically across seniority. While 16.4% of entry level employees come from a BAME background, only 4.7% of C-Suite jobs are held by ethnic minorities.

Advertising Agency Employees by Ethnic Background

Source: IPA Diversity Survey 2017

Marketing Week have also published some very useful figures on diversity and inclusivity in the marketing industry, broken down by individual sectors.

Why make diversity a priority?

Obviously, equality of opportunity is a fundamental human right and welcoming a diverse workforce is simply the right thing to do. However, there is also an economic argument for diversity, backed up by a growing body of research, such as this report from McKinsey & Company, that proves the companies with a more diverse workforce perform better financially. Companies who score well for gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform their peers, while those with a high level of ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to do better.

Diversity in marketing departments in particular is driving more successful brands. Those that have embraced inclusivity are better reflecting their customer base, building better relationships with those customers and ultimately boosting their brand.

  Diversity isn’t a nicety, it’s a necessity. Inclusion is an inescapable and necessary consequence of a global economy; it’s becoming impossible for companies to flourish without diverse organisations that reflect their consumer base.  

Mary Spio, Founder of CEEK VR

How can marketing teams improve their diversity?

Improving recruitment practices to better attract and hire people from different backgrounds is the obvious area to start. Hiring quotas for different kinds of employees have fallen out of fashion, as they are an artificial attempt to improve diversity that can be damaging in the long term and even illegal. Instead, companies like the BBC are choosing to set guidelines for candidate shortlists that mean they must include jobseekers from ethnic minorities.

Attracting applicants from more diverse backgrounds, who many not have even considered marketing as a career, is crucial to improving diversity. Offering apprenticeships, travel expenses and bursaries are all ways in which companies can encourage people from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter the marketing profession. There are many different organisations, such as ThisAbility, BAME 2020, Creative Equals or the Marketing Academy Foundation, which have been set up to help employers reach a more diverse audience for their vacancies.

Finally, different methods of selecting candidates need to be found, to overcome our natural tendency to ‘pattern match’ and choose new employees who are most like our current staff. Having an anonymised recruitment process, removing gender bias from job advertisements and exploring new methods of shortlisting candidates are all increasingly common in the industry.

If you’d like any help or advice on reaching a more diverse audience for your marketing vacancy, please get in touch with The Tarsh Partnership on 020 7849 6875 or

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