Industry split over progress on diversity and inclusion


When strategy’s editorial team launched a Pulse-Check survey focused on diversity and inclusion last month, our intention wasn’t to learn what specific actions, if any, brands and agencies have taken to begin building a more equitable industry. Those companies have been vocal enough about those efforts themselves.

Rather, we wanted to know whether our readers are satisfied with those promises and efforts made to fulfill them to date – whether or not there’s a sense that progress has been achieved in the year since George Floyd’s murder.

With the responses of more than 200 participants now in, it appears feelings are split, suggesting there’s a divide – of experience and of perception – between different members of the industry.

To start, a small majority of respondents (52%) believe the industry as a whole has made attempts to address systemic racism or other issues related to diversity and inclusion within the last year (17% are unsure). That’s much lower than the 86% of participants who say their company or company leadership have expressed the need to address the issue over the same period.

When it comes to the industry’s response, survey respondents are evenly split between those who are satisfied (39%) and those who are dissatisfied (39%) with the progress that has been made. Within each of those groups, only a small percentage feel strongly about their position, describing themselves as either very satisfied (6%) or very dissatisfied (8%).

However, respondents’ outlooks are more positive than negative when considering the efforts of their own organizations, with 68% feeling satisfied and only 22% feeling dissatisfied – which suggests employees may be unaware of the positive actions being taken within other organizations.

Companies’ decisions to make commitments or introduce new policies to address systemic racism and/or foster inclusion may be contributing to employees’ more positive perceptions. Among survey participants, 37% say their company previously had policies or commitments in place (44% did not and 19% are unsure), while 70% are aware of new ones introduced within the last year.

Among those who are dissatisfied with their company’s efforts, many believe the actions are performative. Many describe seeing “all talk and no action.” A few people say financial barriers disproportionately impacting visible minorities (such as the use of unpaid internships) remain an issue, while others note that new hires made in the last year, particularly at the leadership level, do not align with stated diversity targets, as BIPOC talent continues to be overlooked.

“There’s a significant gap between the tone and energy of the announcement/commitments and what actually takes place,” one respondent wrote. “Broadcasted as a priority, when in reality it is clearly not.”

A significant 43% of respondents say they would be likely (20%) or very likely (23%) to leave the industry or their company due to a lack of diversity, equity and inclusion. However, fewer of them – only 20% – have considered looking for work in other field, or have already changed employers, within the last year due to a lack of progress.

Survey responses were collected between April 26 and May 3, 2021. Respondents represent nearly every corner of the industry, including brands/client-side (17%), creative agencies (40%), media agencies (8%), PR agencies (7%), media companies (7%), production houses (3%) or another adjacent company (13%).