Is positive discrimination the only way agencies and other professionals can address Black Lives Matter?

Interpublic’s Michael Roth is clearly trying to take the lead on ad agency employment amid Black Lives Matter and has released some data showing IPG’s BAME (black Asian minority ethnic) representation, compared to a peer group of other “professionals” including accountants and lawyers. And it doesn’t make especially good reading.

In 2016 in the US the white non-Hispanic and Latino Americans (excluding Hisapnics and Latinos) accounted for 61 per cent of the population. Including Hispanics defined as white it’s 77 per cent. Black, or African-American, accounted for 13 per cent. So, as Roth has acknowledged, there’s some work to be done.

In the UK the situation is rather more complex; there hasn’t been a census since 2011 (the next one is due in 2012.) In 2011 the white British ethnic group accounted for 80.5 per cent followed by other white on 4.4 per cent and Indian 2.5 per cent. Those from what the census called a black African background made up just 1.8 per cent.

This will presumably have change quite dramatically by 2021 as the population as a whole will have increased by about nine million. Estimates from 2016 show 31.4 per cent of primary and 27.9 per cent of secondary pupils at state schools in England (where nearly all kids go although not our elected leaders) were members of an ethnic minority.

Ad agencies and the other businesses attached to them (as with lawyers and accountants) mainly recruit from established universities and these, in the UK at least, massively favour private schools or ones from leafy suburbs. In the US the top universities also favour middle class students. Exam systems large embed this.

Without a massive change to the higher education establishment (historically highly resistant to change and adept at lobbying against significant change – unless it’s admitting high-paying Chinese students) it’s hard to see how agencies and others can make that much difference, although no doubt they’re trying.

Some form of positive discrimination looks like the only way out for IPG’s Roth and his peers. Will they have the cojones to do it?

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.