Here’s how Indian ad agencies are improving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within their organisations
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Creative agencies tell us all they are doing to strengthen their DEI policies

Here’s how Indian ad agencies are improving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within their organisations

Creative agencies tell us all they are doing to strengthen their DEI policies
  • There’s no doubt that in 2022 and beyond, companies and advertising agencies will dedicate more attention and resources to improving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).
  • While the ad industry has a lot of women today, many drop out by the time they reach mid-management levels, primarily due to the lack of flexible hours, or the flexibility to work from home.
  • Advertising agencies, therefore, have been working towards training more women, to prepare them for leadership roles. They are also launching special programs to encourage queer people to join advertising agencies.
  • We speak to a few Creative Agencies that appear to be making strides in improving DEI to find out what’s their current gender ratio and got them to share a few ways in which they think the industry can evolve to become more inclusive.
The advertising industry is known to lead to change and advertising agencies have the power to shape how people see themselves through their creative campaigns. They have the power to make a positive impact on society. The industry can use its influential power in mending belief systems and nudging people to question their regressive thoughts. From challenging stereotypes to pushing people to embrace the entire gender spectrum, advertising campaigns can work wonders in bringing about acceptance.

Apart from using their advertising and marketing tools tactfully, ad agencies can work towards improving gender representation inside their organisations at a structural level. However, at the creative stage, too many perspectives have been excluded over the years. Many organisations hire one queer person and make them the face of diversity. Last year, Cannes Lions was called out for hiring one person of colour at Roger Hatchuel Academy and making them the face of diversity. After drawing flak, the academy and Cannes Lions onboarded a specialised Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity agency to correct its course.

In the last few years, advertising agencies in India have taken baby steps towards improving Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity inside their organisations as well. They are trying to build an inclusive culture that transcends barriers, biases and bureaucracy, and makes employees truly feel like they belong. With equal representation of different voices on the inside, historically underrepresented demographic groups are authentically and positively represented in the campaigns too. This leads to robust dialogue, richer decisions, it helps build empathy within the organization to design good, and human-centered solutions.

Advertising and Media Insider gathered insights from industry leaders and agencies who appear to be making strides towards DEI about how employers can boost diversity and inclusion in their organisations.

A look at the current gender ratio

MullenLowe Lintas Group’s gender ratio stands at 35% and the agency network has a similar ratio even at the leadership level.

Garima Pant, Group HR Director, MullenLowe Lintas Group told us about their hiring process. She said, “For us, DEI goes beyond Gender. This year with our Apex Council, we plan to steer initiatives and changes aimed towards shaping and embedding DEI in the DNA of the organization. Our commitment to hire more diverse voices has already been put in action; we are signatories on the UN Women Empowerment Principles, we introduced our Referral program with 2X referral bonus aimed at hiring women, PWD’s and LGBTQ+ team members and are also systemically looking at embedding DEI in our processes to ensure accountability while we lead with intent.

For advertising, more than most other industries, DEI is not just a humanistic issue, it is a business case. At the heart of diversity and inclusion is getting diverse thinking, diverse perspectives, thereby inspiring imagination and impacting societal change.”

DDB Mudra Group, which was one of the first agencies in India to update its insurance policy to include same-sex couples and live-in partners, ended 2021 with a gender ratio of women-to-men at 40:60. Rita Verma, EVP & Head - HR, DDB Mudra Group told us all about the agency’s roadmap for 2022.

She said, “DEI has been a key priority for us in the last few years, and our plans for the coming year are built off the work that we have done in the last three years. The Phyllis Project is a DDB global initiative that kicked off in 2018 to help women leaders stay the course and rise more effortlessly through the ranks. In 2020, in the middle of the challenges of the pandemic, we managed to launch the India leg of the program, which is a more intense, consistent and personalised program for our top 25 women talent. We will proudly be graduating the first batch of the Phyllis India project in March of this year, and kick-starting a 2022 batch.

Through the last two years, with a mix of mentoring engagements with the best in the business within and outside DDB, training and skill-building interventions and exposure to some of the most inspiring women leaders, we’ve built a set of powerful women leaders. We are proud of the ones who have stayed with us and grown their influence within DDB in India, like Mehak Jaini who heads strategy for us at 22feet Tribal Worldwide, and also the incredible women talent who have gone on to take on bigger challenges in the industry such as Sonal Jhuj at Lego and Shagun Seda at Netflix.

Our Open Pride program has seen us consistently engage in conversations with our employees to increase awareness and sensitize them towards the LGBTQIA+ community. We have made a conscious effort to improve our policies, whether it is in the context of insurance for same sex partners, or increased paternity leave, or wellness leaves. This is a result of six monthly reviews to see how we can be more inclusive and sensitive to all employees. We want to lead the thinking in contemporary employee policies and not follow the market, and are constantly seeking inputs from our people to get better at this. Another initiative that we are truly excited about this year, is a series of our Equal Parenting workshops to help our employees become the kind of parents and professionals they want to be and normalise the essential conversation around balancing parenthood and professional success.”

At TBWA, 35-40% of their employees are women across client servicing, creative and planning functions. To encourage young women and employees of all genders to speak up their minds, the agency network has been working towards making leaders on the top more accessible to new employees.

Namrata Nandan, Executive Director – West, South & New Initiatives, TBWA said, “We have provided a platform to our young promising stars to establish a direct connect with the CEO and present their thoughts on matters pertaining to strategy, operations, organization culture, etc and play a part in the decision-making process. Young millennials and Gen Z are vocal & creative, coupled with a strong need to belong and to be heard. This forum provides a great opportunity for the organization to leverage their creative/out-of-box thinking and at the same time gives them the opportunity to express themselves and participate in decision making.”

Ways in which the advertising ecosystem can improve DEI

It is important to build a work environment where all employees feel seen, accepted and valued. Rohit Suri, Chief HR Officer, dentsu South Asia said that agencies should ‘foster an Inclusive Culture by cultivating a supportive, welcoming and inclusive workplace where everyone can contribute to their full potential.’

Sharing how the entire advertising ecosystem can elevate DEI across the board, he said, “The advertising industry has a huge responsibility to uphold DEI and ensure stereotypes are removed, create products and service offerings that mitigate bias and it is important for the industry to understand that DEI is all about adapting human behavior, something that requires continuous enhancement of inclusion capabilities and ongoing practice every day. Secondly, along with behaviors organizations must have robust feedback mechanisms and listening systems that reinforce the culture of inclusion and belonging. Third, organisations must invest in training programs and initiatives that invite diverse talent from underrepresented groups to join them to ensure the ideas that come from these diverse teams are better and the clients are better served. Fourth, when DEI is treated as a business imperative it moves beyond the responsibility of one team or a group of people it becomes the responsibility of everyone in the organisation.”

Pant broke down her advice into three parts and advised agencies to follow M.A.P.

“Measure - What gets measured gets done: The Org Business and Talent dashboard needs to have a diversity and inclusion lens across the employee lifecycle.
Awareness - Moving beyond the metrics. Awareness is the greatest agent for change.
Policies: Put a stake in the ground. Policies ensure that organizations embrace talent practices that systemically drive Inclusion,” explained Pant.

Verma pointed out that ‘with the queer community, the task is slightly different because one does not identify candidates at the outset by their sexual identity.’ What DDB Mudra Group is trying to build is an environment that makes everyone feel safe, nurtured and be given equal opportunity. This happens through consistent awareness building, education, and sensitization workshops and interactions. To bridge this gap, the agency has organised various masterclass sessions for its employees.

Adding how the HR industry needs a refreshed approach after the pandemic, she said, “The advertising industry in India is experiencing a lot of change. And it is a great time to re-evaluate the principles on which we want to build our agencies going forward, and therefore the overall ecosystem. Especially in the last couple of years, we have seen unforeseen levels of attrition and burnout owing to the pandemic. What it has taught us is the fact that we need to do better by our people as an industry. Whether it is in terms of providing better work-life balance, supporting and propagating equal parenting, consciously seeking women talent in leadership, rewarding leaders for their role in creating and nurturing diverse and inclusive teams, or partnering clients to better represent women and other faultily represented communities in our work – there is so much we must do as an industry. We believe that product and creativity will be exceptional as an outcome of all these efforts as well. It is an exciting time, and we hope to walk tall in the advertising fraternity by leading from the front on all these issues.”