In a digital economy where innovation drives growth, the biggest driver of innovation is diversity. When you bring people from different backgrounds, experiences and skills together, who look, think and act like your consumers, you’ll always find the best solutions, design the most relevant products and deliver truly personal service.
In an interview last week with Business Insider, Saatchi & Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts said that the gender diversity debate is “over” in advertising.
I wouldn’t say that. In fact, I’d argue a broader diversity movement has only just begun. I use the word “movement” because I believe we will get there through positive action and not words alone.
It's not over
Roberts said that, rather that having a “vertical ambition”, some women and men have an “intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy”. Of course “happiness” is important, but it is a low benchmark for any business to set for their employees, regardless of gender.
Leadership in the digital economy means we need to be much braver than that. Our role as leaders is to create the conditions for all of our people to be the best they can be, to unlock opportunities that may have once felt out of reach, and to empower teams to shape the organisations of tomorrow. That is what I demand of myself, and ask of others.
One size doesn’t fit all
Recent statistics suggest that across the UK’s biggest listed companies, women hold less than 20 per cent of executive positions. In the marketing and advertising world, it is staggering to think that women drive approximately 80 per cent of consumer spending but hold less than a third of senior positions.
Statistics like these show that we still have some way to go to achieve gender parity. One of the biggest barriers women face is that, when they look upwards, they don’t see a range of leadership styles in organisations.
One size cannot, and does not fit all. Women, and indeed all leaders, need to find a way that works for them.
A driver of innovation
In the marketing and advertising industries, the biggest difference we can make is to stop just talking about diversity challenges, and to start taking positive actions to change things. Dentsu Aegis, for example, has set up a development programme specifically designed to help senior female leaders accelerate their careers and achieve their potential.
In a qualitative sense, most of us understand that diversity matters. However, figures from McKinsey now demonstrate quantitatively that workforce diversity is important in business.
Its research, which looked at hundreds of companies from across the globe, found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians, and those in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity were 35 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
Not a gimmick
Our focus needs to be on how we build momentum and accelerate women’s progress, help them define their own voice and leadership style, and how we can break down the barriers which stop them from putting themselves forward for the top job.
After all, diversity isn’t a gimmick or simply something that is nice to have. Rather, it is a necessity for any business, and it is a driver of innovation.