Transparency may have taken a back seat on this diversity drive

Share this content:

When we embarked on the first MM&M/Publicis Health Diversity Survey, we thought the biggest challenge would be finding the right survey takers. 

However, after months of outreach, including extensive promotion and a reboot of the approach — not unlike a pharma product launch — the bigger struggle was nudging enough people to open up about their diversity numbers.

Thirty-six forthright healthcare agencies did so. Analysis shows some notable shifts, delving into the C-suite and total workforce. Also shown are agencies' inclusion efforts and top perceived challenges and opportunities. The effort drew responses from a nice cross-section of agency sizes. 

But not from enough agencies where we would have been able to issue an overarching stat on the percent of diversity across the sector. That leaves us wondering, why the low turnout? If the conclusion is people are still choosing to put their collective head under a rock, that would seem strange. 

The in-house and agency people we spoke to all evinced a very strong commitment to making the biopharma workplace more inclusive. Most healthcare agency execs will agree attracting, hiring, and retaining a diverse talent pool has been their biggest challenge. 

Moreover, holding companies such as Publicis (whose Health network sponsored the survey) have developed groups that engage and support diverse employees: VivaWomen, Égalité for LGBT staff, and Mocha for people of color. WPP has stated inclusion goals and numbers for the group. FCB Health Network announced the creation of FCBWe, a diversity and inclusion initiative.

Given agencies' diversity push, why not disclose diversity data? No one expects instant movement, but the ongoing commitment is noteworthy.

Instead, the overwhelming response about the survey seemed to be, “We don't feel like talking about that right now.”

Granted, this is a sensitive topic. Yet, we expected more, especially at a time when discussions about diversity and inequality in the ad industry are at a high due to infamous instances such as the Pepsi ad that was pulled last year and, in a broader sense, due to the #MeToo and now Times Up movements that have exposed and, in the case of Times Up, sought to counter through legal means, workplace sexual harassment.

We put safeguards in place, like guaranteeing respondents' anonymity and confidentiality. We offered incentives. We appealed in numerous ways. In the end, it seems that on this diversity drive, transparency may have taken a back seat.

What can we do to make agencies feel more comfortable divulging their diversity data? If you have a suggestion, please let me know at marc.iskowitz@haymarketmedia (privately) and @Marc_Iskowitz (publically). Knowing the full scope of the problem, we believe, can help bring much-needed change in this area.

Share this content:
Scroll down to see the next article