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Age and family status are the most common reported forms of discrimination in the marketing industry both locally and globally, followed by age, gender, ethnicity and disability, according to the Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Census undertaken by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA).

The census, the results of which were released in December, is a global first, providing the marketing industry with a starting point for brands to begin walking the talk actively rather than being all talk, no action.

The research found that globally marketing outperforms many other industries on DEI, though there’s room for better racial representation in SA. However, SA companies do better than the global average as far as actively taking steps to be more diverse and inclusive is concerned.

The findings also showed that there are clear gaps in lived experience when different groups were compared with the industry average, both in individual markets and globally. For example, men scored 69% compared with women, at 61%, on Kantar’s inclusion index, which is generated by asking questions about people’s sense of belonging, the absence of discrimination and the presence of negative behaviour. Unconscious bias is clearly more evident in the workplace than we think.

Despite these serious concerns, the marketing sector outperformed every other category that has been analysed by Kantar, scoring an overall 64% on the inclusion index, ahead of the next highest-performing sector of health and pharmaceuticals, which had a rating of 60%.

The results were based on more than 10,000 online responses from 27 markets around the world, including SA, conducted in June and July 2021. The survey went beyond the demographics of participants to tap also into their sense of belonging along with their experience of discrimination and demeaning behaviour.

The research was led by the WFA, in collaboration with agency associations Eaca and VoxComm and with Cannes Lions, Advertising Week, Effies, GWI, Campaign, IAA and research firm Kantar. In SA it was led by an alliance consisting of MASA, the local WFA affiliate, and sister industry bodies the ACAARBIABMRF and Kantar South Africa.

The most common forms of discrimination globally identified by the survey were family status and age, with 27% stating that their company does not treat all employees fairly regardless of family status and 27% stating that their company does not treat all employees equally regardless of age. Thirty-six per cent of respondents agreed that age can hinder one’s career while 40% of women agreed that family status can hinder one’s career.

Globally, ethnic minorities also scored lower on key questions such as “I feel like I belong at my company” in nearly all markets. In the US, 17% said they have faced discrimination based on their racial background. SA recorded the highest level of discrimination due to ethnicity (19%) across all markets surveyed, so a sense of oppression still exists, with non-white respondents also reporting greater perceived career obstacles.

In many markets this is reflected by a gender pay gap. In the US and Canada, for example, the gap is worst among those starting out in the industry, with a 13% gap in the US and a 20% gap in Canada, despite some ethnic minorities or foreign nationals reporting being paid more than the ethnic majority.

Encouragingly, the reported average salary of SA men is higher than that of women only at the executive management/C-suite level, notwithstanding women now making up the bulk of all positions extending across top, middle and junior management all the way through to intern/trainee level.

That said, the career ladder looks different for those with family responsibilities other than dependent children, as 38% of women respondents believe that family status can hinder one’s career compared with 27% of men. In the SA context, family dynamics, coupled with religious, socio-cultural, economic, and political differences - compared with global benchmarks - may well be affecting this perception. In addition, as many as 50% of 18- to 24-year-old SA respondents think age hinders one’s chances of career progression.

The non-white average salary is finally on par at a senior level, with 55% of respondents in executive manager and C-suite positions being non-white. Unfortunately, black South Africans are still vastly underrepresented in marketing overall, at just 37% compared with the national average of 90%.

In an industry struggling to find the right talent, the lack of diversity and inclusion is a serious concern; 17% said they were likely to leave their current company because of the lack of inclusion and/or discrimination they experienced. Fifteen percent said they would leave the industry overall.

Most reported that their organisations are taking active steps to address diversity and inclusion; but this sentiment varies greatly from country to country. Most respondents feel their company is working hard to become more diverse and inclusive, with 60% of global respondents agreeing.

There are substantially large variations between markets in general. When looking across all scores, Belgium scored highest of the 27 markets surveyed in Kantar’s inclusion index, at 74%. But one of the starkest learnings from the survey is the extent to which some countries reported figures significantly below the global averages when it comes to discrimination and negative behaviours. This is particularly noticeable when it comes to reviewing the responses from women in these same markets. These differences also corroborate systemic issues in some countries where there have been longstanding societal problems around gender, race and/or ethnicity.

The final global report can be accessed here.  

The big take-out:

In an industry struggling to find the right talent, the lack of diversity and inclusion is a serious concern, with 17% of respondents saying they are likely to leave their current company because of the lack of inclusion and/or discrimination they experienced


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