Addressing the lack of diversity in the advertising industry

Shannie Mears is co-founder of The Elephant Room, a new kind of creative company who are on a mission to make the advertising industry a more representative and inclusive place.

Frustrated with how unrepresentative the industry was Shannie started The Elephant Room, alongside former CEO Dan Saxby, with a determination to not only to produce amazing campaigns but to usher in a more inclusive and equal approach to creativity. They are now a founding team of five, working to implement what the future of advertising looks like. We sat down with Shannie to find out a little more about how and why the team at The Elephant Room strive to achieve this goal.

What do you do at The Elephant Room and how are you different from normal creative businesses?

I’m the head of talent, which means I look after all the collaborators that are hired into our company. A lot of that means finding new talent and ways to engage with fresh and wider creatives in different industries. My job is to stay on the ball and up to date with what’s happening in different sectors of creative industries.

I do this by becoming a part of communities, attending events, running events and having one to ones with people on a weekly basis. Most businesses don't operate in such an accessible, agile, flexible and informative ways. A lot of it is about process but with us it’s just about collaboration and opportunity to build relationships.

How do you ensure that the business has a diverse team and set of partners?

If you look at our founding team, it works from the top down. We are all so different and it shows. Through our networks, our talent and the way in which we work. Which means the culture we are building for our company has to be inclusive and right for all of us. It's about ensuring that our mind sets are all aligned for what we want for our company, no matter where we come from. It’s also about transparency of communication too, as well as saying how we feel.

Read: Why businesses should be careful about hiring for 'cultural fit'?

What practical steps do you take in the hiring process to ensure that The Elephant Room is an inclusive employer?

I believe in character profiling and potential. Of course we all have specific roles we need to fill, but we don't believe in tick boxing exercises or hiring someone because they’re a mate or the person who can fill the position the quickest. It's about having an understanding of what we need from the person as a specialist in the role we are trying to fill and what we need from them culturally in terms of their contribution to the company culture. Will they be the right fit for our ethos? Are they a person that can bring value outside of their role? These are all equally as important to ask ourselves, before hiring for a 'graphic designer', for example.

You state on your website that 'Today, most agencies are less diverse than the client companies they serve'. Why is that a problem and what are the consequences?

It is a big problem. Clients hire agencies to deliver creative work, research and essentially a lot of the output for their brand. If within agencies you have more people that sound alike and look alike then the likelihood is that they will think alike too. This means you get a narrow view on what’s actually happening within the world and more often than not a lot of people go under represented.

Whether that’s from a perspective of race, gender, age or ability. It’s just not right. Ultimately it's about diversity of thought, and if you have no variety of people you won't even get the base level of that, we have to be representative of the consumer and society as a whole. Consequences are the brand loses the quality of their audiences, they make people angry, sad, insecure and more. They also fall short of loyalty, especially within younger generations.

Are you hopeful that the future of the creative industry will be an increasingly diverse one?

I'm confident that this will be the case within the next 10 years, maybe. We still have a very long way to go and it’s important we recognise that. Patriarchy, white privilege, social class injustice and gender inequality are still big problems we are facing and we need to tackle those problems to make sure we ensure opportunity is accessible and fair. Inclusivity, real inclusivity will then exist within companies.


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