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The creative benefits of diversity by Samantha Tse

Three years ago, British creative agency Ogilvy launched a new internship programme to attract more diverse talent and to expand its pool of creatives with some different perspectives. ‘Pipe’ had no age limit nor did it require any industry experience – just passion. To encourage those who might not be able to otherwise afford the internship, successful Pipe candidates – or ‘Pipers’ – would earn the London Living Wage.

The inaugural group included those with backgrounds in forensic investigation, computer coding and set design. “We’ve had graffiti artists and other really creative individuals that if we went through the normal recruiting methods, we would have never found them. Some of the best hires have been off the Pipe,” said Jai Kotecha, a managing partner at Ogilvy.

Of the initial 15, just under half remain working within the company. They include Amie Snow who, in three years, has gone from intern to creative and is the co-founder of Ogilvy Roots, a collective made up two years ago of strategists, creatives and planners at the agency dedicated to championing more ethnic and cultural diversity within the industry. As a woman of colour herself, Snow understands the value of different perspectives.

“We got together as a team and asked what is the creative goal we wanted to achieve. We wanted to champion ethnic and cultural diversity within the agency and industry and within the work,” said Snow. “Then we wanted to show what the business return is and overall, we understand that if you have more diversity within your network, you can have more financial gain.”

Creativity and innovation thrive in environments with divergent perspectives, as seen in a series of recent reports. In January 2018, management consultancy McKinsey published its Delivering Through Diversity study, which found that there was a strong link between diversity and financial performance. Among the six countries surveyed, including the UK, companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams were 33 per cent more likely to outperform their peers on profitability. That number increased to a whopping 43 per cent with companies that have culturally diverse boards. The report also found that more inclusive companies were able to attract and retain talent, improve decision-making and increase customer insight.

In a similar study, Harvard Business Review surveyed 1,700 companies across eight countries and found that the most-diverse enterprises were also the most innovative. Companies with above-average diversity across gender, education, age and other factors, scored 19 per cent higher innovation revenues from products from the last three years.

“We have found that diversity of background, not only gender and race but also education, expertise, experience and professional view point, brings richness of opinions, divergent ideas, new approaches and more lateral thinking to explore the ‘edge of the possible’,” explains Hanna Laikko, chief business officer and global principal at creative agency Moving Brands. “Different perspectives fuel healthy debate around what matters most and can be great stimulus for creativity.”

These financial benefits highlighted by McKinsey and HBR are rooted in the creative opportunities. One of the reasons why a mixed workplace achieves a greater profitability is because of access to new approaches and to new markets. This is particularly relevant in the current times when brands have become more globally focussed. To be competitive and successful internationally, brands must bring a sense of authenticity that reflects their clients’ specific market. If design industries and brands want to stay relevant, it’s imperative they expand their creative team beyond the monoculture that has dominated the industry for so long. ‘Groupthink’ – the practice of making decisions in a group, often ending up in bland, unchallenged results – has little currency in today’s creative marketplace.

While design trails behind many other industries in matters of diversity, it’s clear that over the past few years, the sector has made a more concerted effort to increase the representation of different perspectives. This has translated into more effective ad campaigns and creative projects.

Industry veteran Laikko says good design isn’t just a reflection of the society it serves, but “can unpick underlying issues and needs at societal scale and provides opportunities, solutions for ‘unmet needs’ and progress.”

In autumn 2018, Snow and the Roots team created an awareness campaign titled Change the Facts, Not the Fro for World Afro Day that celebrated Afro-Caribbean hair. In some countries, it’s illegal to wear Afros, dreads or braids within professional environments.

“We understood this was a global issue so we put the brief out to our other Ogilvy offices and we went very linear with it,” explained Snow.

The Singapore office came up with the idea while Snow and her London team conceptualised the campaign, which challenged the stigmatisation of natural Afro-Caribbean hair. The campaign featured a series of photos, infographics and statistics to show the discrimination Afro-hair faces on a daily basis.

“It was an amazing campaign and I would even boldly say that it helped to go along with the effort to make it illegal for people to discriminate against Afro hair,” said Snow, referring to the law that passed earlier this year in New York to protect African-Americans from being discriminated by employers and schools based on hairstyle.

While Snow reached out to her global network, Laikko at Moving Brands incorporates her clients as part of her team when working on a project.

Moving Brands has worked on large-scale campaigns including Memrise, a subscription-based language app, and IBM iX, a global consulting organization. For both projects, Moving Brands tapped into the cultural energy of its clients.

“Memrise aspires to enrich people’s experience of the world through learning language with cultural context. Because the team members from both organisations consisted of people from varied educations, expertise, creative disciplines and nationalities, we created a powerful multiplier effect,” explained Laikko. The app was voted Best App in 2017 from Google Play.

While working on IBM iX, Laikko also drew from teams in multiple locations, disciplines and sectors to help mobilise the project and ‘galvanise the heritage and capabilities of this iconic American company toward a new future focussed proposition with design at its core.’ IBM iX is now the largest digital agency in the world with over 10,000 employees.

“Clients bring the understanding of their business priorities, culture and capabilities into the mix,” she explained. “Close and true collaboration with clients allow us to dig deeper and wider.”

As for the new generation of creatives like Snow, she knows her non-traditional background is what makes her perspective unique and with hard work, will hopefully see her move towards increasing leadership diversity. ‘It would be good to know that we could one day aspire to be the levels of Jai,’ she said.


Manifesto

1. Teams that are ethnically and culturally divergent are outperforming companies that aren’t. Using data from McKinsey’s report, companies with more diverse representation are 33 per cent more likely to achieve greater profits. Inclusion on all levels will be the key to attracting and retaining talent, improving decision-making and increasing customer insight.

2. When the current buzzwords permeating through all aspects of culture are ‘inclusivity’ and ‘diversity’, the design industries must create teams with many different perspectives to stay competitive. The current culture has outgrown the old monoculture model and keeping it will hinder profitability and relevance.

3. To capture the zeitgeist and create more effective ad campaigns, creative projects and branding, the design industries must understand the value of different perspectives including race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual identity and ability.


Samantha Tse is a London and Paris-based writer, editor and consultant. Her work has been published in T Magazine, CNN Style, WWD and i-D among many others.