True Diversity feat. DMA Talent

We caught up with Kate Burnett, General Manager, DMA Talent, championing the future stars and the diverse talent that offers such rich promise to the UK data and marketing industry.

The purpose of our initiative and series “True Diversity” is to feature, collate and showcase the breadth of initiatives and views that are all on a mission to work towards True Diversity and Inclusion.

Tony @ ADLIB: Let’s start with the need for Diversity and Inclusion, what’s your take – why is it so important?

Kate: I think at the very heart of D&I in the workplace is the principle of treating everybody as individuals, making sure that you get the best out of them and enabling them to progress as well as they can by understanding what their needs are. Perhaps it’s about physical needs in the workplace, or practical things like flexible working if you’re a carer, or a parent. Maybe there are certain cultural values and considerations that that you need around you. It’s just about getting that understanding of individuals, rather than assuming that everybody has the same outlook, celebrates the same things, chooses to do the same things, and has the same views.  Understanding people as individuals is the absolute heart of diversity.

DMA is a trade association, so, like ADLIB, we’re not experts in diversity and inclusion, but it’s a really important thread of what we do as a business. As a trade association, we’ve got about 700 to 800 corporate members across the UK, which we represent in the area of Data and Marketing. As a group, we try to be the most customer focussed group in the UK. We provide learning and best practice for our members, to help them to deliver the best marketing they can produce – marketing which engages their customers. DMA also offers things like legal advice, events, and awards that recognise good work. Importantly, all those members abide by a code of conduct, which has to be focused on how they treat their customers, particularly around data.

Things like respecting privacy, being honest and fair, being very diligent with data, all those things are built into that code of practice. And one of the things we’re working on at the moment is how we build new elements to that code, which is all about people. It’s a code that we expect members to abide by. Part of that is about making sure teams are well trained, and it’s a very dynamic, changing industry.

An important part of the DMA code is diversity and inclusion – it’s about your team. I think this is really important in any organisation, but I think it’s especially important when thinking from a marketing perspective, because if you don’t have a team that reflects society, that reflects your customers, then I think it’s quite hard to have that empathy and understanding of your audience. As the Data and Marketing Association we want people to produce better marketing and we think that diverse teams will produce much better marketing.

Tony @ ADLIB: Can you share a little bit more about what DMA Talent does? What’s the purpose and mission of your initiative?

Kate: One of the reasons we decided to bring D&I into focus is because we did do a lot of different things, and we felt that it needed to be brought together in one space. I’d say there are two or three key things that we’ve worked on over the last few years which have stood out:

One is apprenticeships, which you’ll be aware of from the Bootcamps that ADLIB has helped us with. I think marketing has been fixated on having graduates coming into the industry, which already excludes a lot of people as only a percentage of the population is privileged enough to go to university. It does not make for a diverse workforce, and I think the more accessible we can make apprenticeships, the more it could be a real game changer.

The marketing industry is quite focused on young people coming into the industry. It’s also about retraining people to enter the industry, including those retraining at a later stage in life. They might use an apprenticeship as a way in too. So that’s been quite important. I think there are larger initiatives coming from things like the Advertising Association to try and make that work better because, in comparison to other professions, I don’t think Marketing is doing too well in terms of the numbers of apprenticeships. There are lots of reasons for that and we’re looking at that right now.

One of the subjects we’ve worked on for a number of years now is neuro diversity. Marketing, in terms of the types of jobs that we have is quite diverse. Some of those jobs are highly creative, some of those jobs are highly analytical, and some of those jobs are both of those things, and everything in between.

We started working about three or four years ago with a guy from Bristol called Matt Trerise. He was working with the NHS in Bristol, with people with autism, helping and supporting them, and some of that support was centred around getting people into work. We had some really good conversations with Matt and realise that there was a good opportunity in the marketing industry for people from neurodiverse backgrounds, principally because of the types of jobs, in terms of that ability to be really creative, that ability to really get down to the detail and focus on the detail.

But if your industry doesn’t understand, or if the companies don’t understand neurodiverse conditions, then you could be just putting neurodiverse people into a really difficult situation, and that isn’t going to work. So, as I said, at the beginning, we’re not experts in neuro diversity either but what we do have is a group of companies that we work with on a regular basis, that we can help try and inform and help their knowledge grow.

We ran a series of workshops with Matt initially just focused on autism, in terms of looking at what the positive sides of autism were, and people who are high functioning are able to do lots of different types of jobs.

We ran workshops where people would understand what the conditions meant, understood what great skills people have, and that they have the ability to think differently to the rest of us, which is really important when you’re trying to crack a problem. The workshops helped people understand neurodiverse conditions better, but also how to make the workplace better for people with neurodiverse conditions. And a lot of it came down to just really good working practice, really clear lines of communication, understanding people’s needs, and being clear on instructions and how things work. So in the end it came down to very basic things that just make any workplace better.

The aim was to not make it a frightening topic, to not think you can’t take people on because you won’t know what to do or how to adapt in the workplace. It was about understanding the adaptions that you can make, and how you can support people. Those workshops were really successful. We did them for our members, but we also went to things like Advertising Week and different events and talked at those events as well. I think it generated a lot of interest and realisation amongst people, and also gave people the confidence to disclose their condition in the workplace as well.

We went on to produce three guides, which are free downloads on our website: Employer guides to Autism, Dyslexia and ADHD.

It’s not the whole solution by any means. If you want to take it really seriously then perhaps get some additional training, but it was a starting point for people. It opened the conversation. And I think it helped them with their business. We got feedback from individuals saying “Thanks for the guide. I’ve got ADHD. I’ve never ever disclosed it at work, but now I’ve gone to work with this guide in my hand and this explains what it is, and how you can help.” It was a really valuable exercise.

It’s knowing, understanding and observing, you know. We’ve had several neurodiverse people come on our boot camps and I hope by having had a bit of previous knowledge, we’ve been able to support them better than we would have done otherwise. I suppose the whole tenet of diversity and inclusion is making things accessible to everybody.

Tony @ ADLIB: What do you consider potential consequences of a lack of Diversity and Inclusion and what do you see as the main benefits of an inclusive workforce?

Kate: I think there’s a big risk that if you don’t have enough diversity and inclusion then you’ll end up with even less. I feel that people need to see people like them in roles, for example, there isn’t enough diversity in Tech talent. Once people start to see people like them in roles, then it becomes more interesting and a bit more attractive to navigate. It enables businesses to attract the right and the best people to their industry.

We talked about this before the interview began – it’s not just about having people in the business, it’s having people at all levels in the business. It’s looking to the board of directors and seeing different faces on that board. Having people with different views and different lived experiences is really important.

We’ve just started working with a group of black marketers to develop a forum at the DMA, because even when we’ve been attracting people into the industry, they’re not staying. We have to figure out why that is, what we can do about it, and how we can work with businesses to correct that. Otherwise we’re attracting people into the industry from different cultural backgrounds, and they won’t stay because either they’re not getting promoted, or they don’t see anybody like them above them. So, I think that’s one consequence. And I think there are lots more serious consequences for marketing, particularly as we start to use things like AI more – in terms of bias, and algorithms and bias in the way products are invented, and services that are delivered.

It’s not just about having diversity in your workforce, which we can see is really starting to happen now. But it’s the whole process. It’s not just about what happens on the outside it is about how those products are generated too. I think the consequence for organisations is quite severe. If we all think the same and have the same outlook all the time, we only have one point of view. And Marketing is an ideas business. Without those good, strong creative ideas and understanding different people it’s never going to be successful. The consequences for marketing are actually quite severe if we don’t get these things right.

I think there’s a lot more concern now to push the conversation further but turning it into awareness is only the first step, isn’t it? You have to change people’s awareness and attitudes but also, boringly, processes too. So many organisations will go to the same university every year and recruit from there – even the same course sometimes. And they wonder why they have no diversity within their organisation. It’s because they just keep recruiting the same people time after time after time.

We did a survey, probably about four or five years ago now, where we looked at how people come into the marketing industry, and there was a shockingly high number of people that came because they already knew someone – the CEOs nephew came to do work experience… The nepotism is unintentional, in most cases, but just repeating the same processes won’t change anything. And that’s why it’s really great to see organisations like Adlib taking this on board, because you’re there at the beginning when people recruit into their organisation. You’ve got that insight, that consciousness about understanding what their team looks like now, and what’s missing from that team.

Even the job description and the ad itself can be a barrier. Too often, people trot out the same old “must have good communication skills” etc. But for someone who’s an introvert or somebody is on the autism spectrum that’s like, “oh, no, I’m not sure I have got good communication skills so I won’t apply”. When actually it might turn out that you don’t need to be an extrovert to do that job. It’s the same with “you must have a degree” – too often, the same old stuff appears in a job advert. Those things are appropriate for many jobs, but not all jobs. It’s very easy to turn people off by what you write in your job ad, and where you post that job ad.

Tony @ ADLIB: I totally agree! And our final question for today – how can businesses and potential employers get involved with your initiative programme organisation?

Kate: I think the guides are already good, easy steps to interact and engage with what we’re doing. They’re free to download. And also, again, apprenticeships. Next time you’re hiring for a role, consider whether that can be done by an apprentice. There are many ways and routes into apprenticeships, and we try to support our member companies as best we can to do that. I think they’re the two main things starting points.

The DMA also has an annual awards ceremony, where they look at the best marketing work across about 35 different categories, and one of the very first things they set out was to get gender parity and ethnicity parity across their judging panels. And we’ve since worked with people like Outvertising, we’ve worked with Purple Goat making sure there’s people with disabilities represented on those judging panels. The judging panel that decide what is the very best work that’s been presented to them, come from very diverse backgrounds. By working with different partners, like those mentioned, we’re ensuring people feel like it’s for them. That was quite an important step for the DMA, because it’s probably one of the highest profile things that they do. And if we can bring all this together in the code, then I think we’ve really got something because that’s that next step of changing processes, isn’t it?

We want you investing in your people, in order to make sure that you produce the best marketing that you can, and then hopefully end up with one of those awards, because you’ve got your people trained, and you’ve got a diverse team behind you.

Tony @ ADLIB: Fantastic. That was that was super useful. Thank you!

Written by

Head of Marketing, Digital & eCommerce

Agency & In-house Marketing

View profile

Tony Allen