Pioneering ‘Advertising Diversity Taskforce’ census find the industry still failing under-represented talent

The Advertising Diversity Taskforce has published the first ‘Who Are We?’ report, based on the results of the biggest ever self-completion census of the media and advertising industry.

The anonymous questionnaire, conducted Omnibus and completed by 2,589 people from 15 companies across the agency landscape, covers numerous areas of diversity - including some that have not been measured before - and calls for action to transform the existing structures holding the industry back.

Despite 90% of respondents saying they believed the best creative environments include people from a variety of backgrounds, only 47% think their company goes out of its way to hire diverse talent.  

The census – which was compiled and analysed Mediacom and Grey London - identifies the biggest areas for improvements as social mobility, ethnicity, gender, age and disability.


Social mobility

Less visible than some of the areas covered in the census, the report highlights social mobility as a serious problem for the industry. 22% of participants were privately educated, more than three times the national average of 7%. Among senior leaders the problem is even more acute at 31%. However, employees under-24 also over-index on the national average, suggesting social inclusion strategies aren’t working.


According to the results, 16% of employees at UK agencies are from BAME backgrounds. Although this figure is higher than the national average of 13%[i], it is considerably lower than the London BAME population of 40%[ii]. All but two of the companies taking part are based in the Capital.

There are signs that things are improving and that diversity initiatives are starting to cut through, as there are more BAME employees under-24. However, it remains significant that only 8% of industry leaders are BAME, suggesting action is needed to ensure future progression from entry level positions to the boardroom.

Gender equality

The data suggests the glass ceiling remains unbroken within the industry. While women outnumber men until director level, at that point the trend goes into reverse, reflected in the visible gender pay gap across the industry.[iii]

There is also a far higher proportion of men with children in the industry than women, suggesting a lack of compatibility with family life. Furthermore, only 54% of mothers returned to work at their current company after taking maternity leave. 


The industry has an age problem – only 10% of the sample was over 45. The problem is particularly acute among women. Only a third of over 45s in the industry are women, while only 2% were over 55. By comparison, 29% of the UK workforce is aged 50+ according to the ONS[iv]


Only 1% of the industry workforce are registered disabled, against a UK average of 7%. More than a third (38%) of employees who are registered disabled haven’t declared it to their employer. Only 8% of respondents believe the industry is diverse in relation to disability.

Mental Health

Only 46% believe there is enough mental health support and awareness in their workplace. The number is even lower for LGBTQ+ (36%). 


On the face of it the findings suggest LGBT representation is in line with the national average. However, LGBT organisations say that official figures often under-represent the LGBT+ population due to some people still being afraid to declare their sexuality.  This could explain why a smaller percentage of women identified as LGBT in the findings, and may suggest a visibility problem in the industry.


Based on the findings, the cross-industry body is calling for simple steps to be taken to help drive change. These recommendations for individuals and organisations include:


Ÿ Taking personal responsibility for nurturing and developing diverse talent


Ÿ Signing-up for an annual diversity audit to understand your agency better


Ÿ Creating an office space that is as open and inclusive as possible 


Ÿ Setting policies that drive change and joining the Advertising Diversity Taskforce


Ÿ Making public commitments to change




WPP UK country manager Karren Blackett OBE, who’s contributed to the report as part of her role in the Advertising Diversity Taskforce, says: “Our industry needs to evolve if we want to survive - and to play our fullest role in society. This report shows we have some way to go but I believe strongly in the power of advertising, and in our industry. Our future is in our own hands.”


Grey London Chief Marketing Office Sarah Jenkins, adds: “When we launched the Diversity Taskforce last year the ‘Who Are We?” report was top of our list of priorities.  We need to know what’s going on in our agencies so we can make significant changes.  Creative environments can’t flourish without diverse talent bringing their skills and outlook to create the work that our clients’ deserve.  Our industry has a reputational problem that risks alienating existing staff and stopping new talent from coming to work for us.  It’s our responsibility to look at what’s going on and force change.”


The Advertising Diversity Taskforce is today also launching the survey that will provide the data for the 2019 Who Are We report.  Any agencies wishing to take part in the census should contact

Want to make your company shine?
» Switch to a Starter Profile
The Creative Industry Network

List your company among the leaders of the industry, promote your competencies, showcase your work & join an exclusive global marketing and creative industry network.

Create Your Company Profile