Consumer advertising has been in the dock over its lack of diversity, but what about B2B? As part of The Drum's B2B Festival, a panel of industry experts reflected on strategies and approaches that can help eliminate bias and enact change in their field, stressing that allyship and leadership are every bit as essential to the B2B marketer as their consumer counterpart.
You only have to look at the diverse casting of Christmas ads this year to see that this year's Black Lives Matter momentum has resulted in some advertising industry change – if only on the surface. Faults in the system remain behind the screen and in the B2B industry, despite some effort to stamp out systemic racism, sadly unconscious bias still exists, and people of colour continue to face racial inequalities in the workplace.
In the aftermath of June's protests, a number of brands and agencies said they would do more for their employees to make their workplaces more inclusive. But five months down the line, where are the tangible changes?
"Yes there have been empty statements, but there's definitely been some movement," says Dionne McIntosh, account manager, Stein IAS. "Some B2B brands and agencies came out with vague statements, highlighting how they were committed to diversity, reiterating the stuff they've already done with nothing behind it and unsurprisingly, those companies and brands have done nothing. There was no real change because the initial statement was wishy-washy."
But she says there has been movement among brands that have a good legacy in this area, pointing to Adobe as a prime example for the work it does around diversity and inclusion.
Back in June, 1,200 Black advertising professionals signed an open letter that demanded urgent action from adland leadership to tackle systemic racism. That followed the United Nations and the World Federation of Advertisers establishing a series of measures to hold brands to account when it comes to the diversity of their workforces. Creative Equals, a body dedicated to promoting diversity in the workplace, coordinated an open letter asking the UK’s largest agencies to pledge their solidarity. But have these measures truly held ad bosses to account?
"I heard about the Creative Equals letter from a panel discussion that wasn't even a diversity panel - they talked about it being an example of good practice and driving change," recalls Collette Philip, managing director and founder of Brand By Me, a brand consultancy that champions inclusion and diversity.
"I thought, yes this is good because its at least driving some sort of conversation," she continues. "It's getting people to think about this stuff. Consistent measures are better than everyone going off and doing their own thing. These measures help people start from somewhere."
And while a lack of diversity in the workplace isn't the fault of employees, being brave and calling out leadership on a lack of diversity is one way to help eliminate bias and enact change. "It's important to create intersectional support groups. Understanding how you can come together and support each other is really important," says Philip. "Allyship is everything - it's how employees can support and drive change. No matter what element of inclusion you're talking about. So we need our white colleagues to step up when it's about matters of race."
Sylvia Seybel, vice president of B2B client solutions marketing at Dell, agrees allyship is essential, but she stresses that leadership has a responsibility to set the tone. "Brave speakers are great, but it needs to be a space where they feel comfortable being so," she argues.
For the B2B industry to do a better job at eliminating bias, Seybel breaks it down to a simple four-step plan. "First of all, sit down and be honest with yourself and where you're standing right now," she implores. "Don't judge yourself and be honest. Then, put targets in place, and consider where you want to be not just in a few months, but in a few years. The third is an action plan. Think about how you want to build a culture of inclusion in your company. And then the fourth step is to reflect on a regular basis. Be honest with yourself, ask have you made progress and see if you need to change your actions."