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Representation doesn't always mean respect: Learnings from the Advertising Council Australia Create Space report

24 August 2022

At first glance, the results from the Advertising Council of Australia's (ACA) landmark Create Space report are encouraging.

In late 2021, the organisation conducted a far-reaching census of the Australian advertising industry. More than 2,600 people responded - anonymously answering a range of questions about their perception of their work environment and their experiences at their current workplace.

Using a method originally devised by data and insights company Kantar, the answers were parsed into an 'inclusion score' - a numerical value that allows levels of inclusion to be compared across groups.

Aussie AdLand is both (relatively) inclusive and (relatively) diverse

The census shows Australian AdLand performing relatively well on the inclusion index - clocking in a score of 62, which far outstrips the Australian average of 43 and is within striking distance of the World Federation of Advertisers result of 64.

Our industry is also reasonably diverse - with representation of people of differing gender, ethnic, LGBTQI+, and physical ability and mental health identities loosely mirroring the wider Australian population. Age and social mobility is where we diverge the most – with the industry skewing both younger and more privileged than the Australian average.

But, representation does not always equal respect

Despite the relative diversity of the Aussie ad industry and a high inclusion score, ACA's report shows that representation does not always equal respect.

While there are plenty of people working within advertising from marginalised or minority groups, they are not having the same experience as others. People in these groups are far more likely to be to be discriminated against and are at much greater risk of leaving the industry because of discrimination or a lack of inclusion.

Among some of the most telling report results were:

  • While the average inclusion index score was 62, the picture changes when that is looked at more closely. For females, the inclusion index score was 59, while the score for gender non-conforming or non-binary people was only 41. The male inclusion index score was 68.
  • The advertising sector gender pay gap is estimated to sit between 21.6% - 33%. This is more extreme than the Australian private sector average of 17%.
  • Women in the advertising industry are six times more likely to experience gender-based discrimination than men.
  • Representation of ethnic diversity in the industry is a reverse curve - as the jobs get more senior, the representation falls.
  • 18% of Chinese-Australian respondents experienced negative behaviour or discrimination in their workplace.
  • 33% of people living with a physical or mental health condition have been bullied, undermined or harassed in their workplace.
  • Only 1 in 5 neurodivergent respondents feel they belong at their company.
  • 32% of LGBTQI+ respondents choose to hide their identity at work.
  • People aged 25-44 are more likely to experience negative behaviour at work than their younger or older colleagues.
  • The junior levels of the industry are dominated by people with private school educations.
  • 1 in 5 respondents is likely to leave the industry based on lack of inclusion or discrimination. Among this cohort, 70% are female and 45% are aged between 25 and 34.

The plan to change

The authors of the ACA report acknowledge the temptation to try to fix every problem all at once, but "believe we can make the biggest impact on the industry by deliberately targeting three actions at a time, bringing the industry together around some clear focus areas and calls to action".

The report offers tools, clear action plans and ways to measure success in pursuit of these three goals:

#1 - Address Gender Inequities

By tackling sexual harassment and victimisation, developing gender neutral parental leave systems and addressing the gender pay gap, AdLand businesses can improve the experience of and retention of female talent.

#2 - Improve experience for talent with mental health challenges

With a toolkit that includes adopting the Mentally Healthy Minimum Standards, up-skilling managers in holding mental health conversations and becoming a Mental Health First Aid skilled workplace, firms can improve the inclusion index score for people with mental health challenges.

#3 - Address microaggressions

Almost half of survey respondents experienced microagressions. Through educating everyone about what microagressions are, spotlighting exclusionary language and unconscious biases, and cultivating a culture of allyship, advertising organisations can become places where everyone thrives.

To read the full report, and to access the tools and information to implement the report's action plan, head to the Advertising Council Australia's Create Space Hub.