The agency landscape has a problem with diversity. But without addressing the source of the problem we’ll never solve it. If we always have homogenous recruiting pools, by result we’ll always have homogenous workforces. So we have to disrupt the chain and go deeper than we have before. We have to go beyond the job interview.

Walk into any ad agency and you’ll quickly see that we are severely under-represented in Maori and Pasifika employees. An updated version of the Commercial Communications Council’s 2017 D&I study is expected later this year. The 2017 study showed that only 4% of our industry identified as Maori and only 3% as Pasifika, nowhere near their representation in the working age population of 13% and 6% respectively [1].

To be that far off is just not good enough.

Cultural diversity and representation in our industry fosters a richer cultural experience for our people and leads to better outcomes for our clients. We have a collective responsibility to develop new and better ways to engage with underrepresented groups like Maori and Pasifika people: potential future leaders of our industry who can make a tangible impact to our client offerings, skillsets and culture. And it starts way before the job interview.

We’re an industry which has many routes in. For example, having a degree isn’t a prerequisite to success, but we often make it one to get an interview. 26% of the NZ population have a Bachelor or higher-level degree, but for Maori this is only 12% and Pasifika 10%.  When we view the Tertiary level qualifications more vocational in nature, we see that where 26% of the population holds this as their highest level of education, Maori over index at 27% and Pasifika aren’t far behind, at 21%[2].

With our constantly changing technology and data needs, it’s no longer the old Communications degree that catches the eye, but those who have experience in robotics, AI, computing, data analysis, psychology, and the list goes on.  Those with vocational tertiary level qualifications are just as valuable to us as the degree holders, arguably, in many areas more so.

Our needs are wider than ever, but our candidate selection often remains way too narrow.

If Maori and Pasifika communities are statistically less likely to hold the qualifications that we traditionally look for, then it’s our recruitment processes that need to change rather than their educational pathways. We are creating the barriers for these communities to access our industry.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”
Albert Einstein.

How can we expect to drive real change with these repetitive tactics? For the past 12 months, Dentsu Aegis Network NZ has been working in partnership with our NZ Diversity and Inclusion Council to make a raft of changes. Here is some advice based on what we’ve learned.

1. Look outside the box for new recruits

The first house you need to ensure is up to scratch, is your own.

We started with the degree. That’s not a prerequisite for any of our roles and our HR team won’t filter based on that.

Our Diversity and Inclusion Council plays a role in each new hire and advises on how we can ensure a diverse selection pool.

We have changed our hiring policy to ensure:

  • That when we screen CVs, we prioritise putting through a diverse pool of candidates to interviews based on many factors like background, gender, education, experience, etc. This is more about changing mindset than anything else and unconscious bias training of people involved in this process is key.
  • We have a Diversity and Inclusion Council member on interview panels.
  • Our hiring panels are gender balanced and unbiased – again aided by unconscious bias training.

It’s not always easy and there are challenges around pool size and availability, but by having this as policy, we keep this front and centre in the mindsets of those responsible for hiring.  

2. Educate school leavers, not just university graduates

In my experience talking to students from backgrounds that fall outside of the “advertising norm”, many either don’t know we exist as an industry, or don’t believe that their skills, experience or background will allow them to be successful.

This must change, and we must proactively work on this.

We have run multiple programmes with schools in the last 18 months to begin to give students the knowledge that media, creative, experiential, marketing and data are out there, and they’re welcome with open arms.  

Students at these sessions often tell us their skills and interests in computers, business, programming, gaming and the likes mean they have preordained pathways – and advertising isn’t one. Wrong! We must get better at demonstrating how our ever-changing industry is crying out for them, their skills and passion.

In 2018 we hosted a 10-week programme for 10 students from Auckland Girls Grammar School, a city centre school with significant Maori and Pasifika student populations, where we covered multiple skills areas, agency categories, life skills and general preparation for life outside of school.

We are about to run a two day immersion into agency life for students from Onehunga High, a school we started working with through our One Day for Change programme.

Hopefully some of those students come back to be a part of our future, as they definitely have the skills and ability to make a difference.

3. Put your money and time where your mouth is

Many internships in advertising are unpaid or give a token payment to help with transportation and food – this has been the norm in our industry, not the exception.

We want to go further than that. In 2020 we’re launching an internship programme where interns are paid the living wage for Auckland, making it more accessible, regardless of financial position.

4. Less talk, more action

Mentoring, and just getting out into schools and universities is one of the most powerful things you can do.

A coffee and a chat, spending time in our offices for a day, or speaking at schools can go a long way to inspiring students to dig a little deeper into what our industry can offer.   

I’m getting out there and leaving my door, email, phone, LinkedIn open to anyone who wants learn more about what we do, how to be ready for it and get a foot in the door.  

To see the diversity we all know our industry needs, we need to do more, together, to proactively include, engage and connect with these future stars of media and advertising. 

[1] The Commercial Communications Council:

[2] Ministry of Education: Educational Attainment in the adult population Data Tables 2017

Alex Lawson, Carat New Zealand

General Manager