Culture of intentional inclusivity needs to be fostered in marketing

Management should educate and train employees around unconscious bias and racism

Marketers are talking and thinking about diversity and inclusion (D&I) far more these days. Last Thursday the Marketing Society hosted the first of its autumn webinars on the subject.

Four panellists – UBS economist Paul O'Donovan, Twitter's Olivia McEvoy, Stha Banks of Core and David Adamson from WPP's The&Partnership – were asked to debate diversity and inclusion as "the single most important criteria for economic success over the next 20 years?"

In June, the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI) rolled out its policy guidelines on diversity and inclusion. In its pitch urging member agencies to sign up to this “must attend” online event, the institute stressed it believes that a talent pool with a broad and diverse range of resources, skills, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds better reflects today’s Ireland.

Aside from helping to lay a foundation for change in Irish society, greater diversity and inclusion spells growth potential for advertisers.



IAPI president Shenda Loughnane, who is group managing director at Dentsu, said the purpose of the institute's diversity and inclusion policy is to ensure that advertising reflects every section of Irish society, and that all employees, job applicants, clients and suppliers are respected, valued and given equal and fair opportunity to perform to their best.

Procter & Gamble implemented diversity programmes requiring agencies and suppliers to adopt measurable D&I strategies.

RTÉ launched its D&I charter in 2018 in a bid to involve more people from ethnic minorities in presenting TV programmes. Emer O'Neill was recruited as múinteoir for its Home School Hub series. O'Neill later spoke openly to Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Show about lessons she learned around racism in an interview on the Late Late Show. She told viewers about how people wrote slurs on walls near where she lived in Bray, Co Wicklow.

RTÉ also hired Zainab Boladale for its Nationwide programme and supported the Black and Irish podcast. Virgin Media Television's D&I initiatives include Gogglebox Ireland and Eating With the Enemy.

Andrew Campbell-Edie from the Waterford-based Irish Centre for Diversity said that diverse casting is on the increase in marketing communications. Aldi currently has a TV ad where a gay couple express the joy of "going up the aisle" together.

Campbell-Edie hopes Ireland will never need a measure like the UK supermarkets takeover to defy the abuse Sainsbury faced for including a black family in their Christmas ads. "Any moves need to be backed by concerted D&I if we're to see meaningful progress, rather than mere window dressing," he added.

Core was one of the first companies to engage with the Irish Centre for Diversity’s Investors in Diversity programme, Ireland’s only diversity and inclusion accreditation mark.


When it comes to gender balance across marketing services in Ireland, women find climbing the public relations executive ladder less taxing – a quick glance through the management list of Ireland’s top PR firms verifies that.

On the other hand, adland relied on the likes of Orlaith Blaney at McCann Erickson and DDFH&B's Miriam Hughes to break the glass ceiling. Today, local agencies like Folk Wunderman Thompson, Publicis, Ogilvy and TBWA are run by women.

In addressing the IAPI webinar, Creative Equals founder Ali Hanan shared insights about the work her organisation does in fostering diversity and inclusion, not just in British advertising and marketing, but across the world.

Hanan worked with some of London's top agencies on brands such as Nike, Dulux, Guinness, British Airways and Ikea. Back in 2003, she was among the 3 per cent of women who were creative directors. Her favoured maxim is "who makes the work, shapes the work".

Hanan says how agency teams are made up and led has a profound impact on who is “seen” in marketing, which, in turn, may influence a society’s culture. She advocates growth by adhering to five Cs: growing committed leaders, healthy cultures, progressive campaigns, diverse consumer growth and all that impacts our communities.

In an e-zine to Marketing Society members, chairwoman Sinéad Mooney, who is co-founder and managing director of research agency Red C, said all four panellists speaking at last week's webinar agreed that culture was at the heart of diversity and inclusion in making people feel they belong. To combat prejudice, it requires intentional inclusivity for people from diverse backgrounds.


“Many prejudices are invisible and, if left unchecked, can increase, divide and isolate,” Mooney said.

“It’s up to us as individuals and marketers to challenge management teams and providers to ensure diversity and get the right skillsets and, ultimately, better decision making.”

Mooney said we are in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution. It is creating economic upheaval driven by human behaviour, as opposed to technology. Diversity of thinking will be crucial for economic success. Above all, it is critical to have the right person in the right job at the right time.

Marketers must recognise that for diversity and inclusion to work, representation matters so look at who is around you in the room. A culture of intentional inclusivity and psychological safety needs to be fostered. Management should educate and train employees around unconscious bias and racism and encourage people to share lived experiences.

Michael Cullen is editor of