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Event / The Great British Diversity Experiment


Google Campus in London played host to the launch of the Great British Diversity Experiment (GBDE) earlier this week.

The experiment brings together 120 people from different backgrounds, encompassing different ages, genders, socio-economic circumstances, education, sexual orientations, ethnicity, and ability.

At the event the crowd were split into randomly assigned teams and introduced to their mentors –industry veterans who will guide them through the process of answering a live brief. Answers will be judged by a panel of industry experts. The prize? A trip to this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.

The initiative is the brainchild of Nadya Powell (managing director, Sunshine), Daniele Fiandaca (co-founder, Creative Social), Alex Goat (managing director, Livity), Jonathan Akwue (CEO, Lost Boys) and Laura Jordan-Bambach (creative partner, Mr President) and will be managed by Tolu Farinto (CEO, LFA).

They hope that it will provide concrete evidence once and for all of the benefits diverse teams bring, and encourage agencies to change their hiring policies. The founders looked to different organisations (SheSays, Creative Social, Hackney Community College and beyond) to recruit diverse teams for the experiment.

In the last UK Census, one in five people identified with an ethnic group other than ‘White British’, and women outnumbered men. Yet the advertising, tech and communications industries remain mostly white, male and middle class.

In an opening address, Powell explained how the idea for the experiment had come from her desire to present something compelling on diversity at SXSW, that could show the effect of working in diverse teams, rather than describe it. With her team, she created the experiment to ‘inspire by proving that diversity works,’ and test its effect on creativity. ‘Hopefully,’ she explained, ‘what we're going to do is wake up the industry.’ She said that the idea for the experiment format came from a Cindy Gallup quote: ‘If a group of six people all have the same background and education, five of them are pointless.’

To help quantify the findings, global insight and strategy consultancy Flamingo will use observational and ethnographic methods to explore how the creative process occurs in diverse teams.

The crowd heard from Eileen Naughton, managing director, Google UK & Ireland, one of the founding members of the now 7,000-strong group ‘Women at Google’. She told the crowd how the group had grown from just a few members (among them, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead) to its current size, saying: ‘Women in Google has been one of the greatest supporters since Gloria Steinham for creating a movement supporting women in leadership roles.’ Now, she said, Google has come a long way. Two years ago the tech giant published its diversity statistics, going against industry norms. ‘If you can’t identify the problem, you can’t change.’

Next, Miranda Brawn, described her experiences as a person from an ethnic minority in the investment banking and law, explaining that diversity makes good business sense. She said ‘When you look at London, it’s multi-ethnic. But when you look at certain organisations, they’re not matching.’ She quoted a McKinsey report on diversity, stating, ‘The more women you have on a board, or at all levels of an organisation, the more effective your business is by 15%. When you change that to an ethnic minority standpoint, effectiveness increases to 35%.’

Scott Knox, MD of the Marketing Agencies Association, spoke about his experiences setting up Pride AM, an organisation for LGBTQ leaders in the advertising and marketing industry. ‘Going into business is a frightening thing. And research from Stonewall says that 82% of LGBT people after further of higher education go back into the closet before they go into full-time work. To be a great business leader, you have to be your authentic self in the workplace. Or you will fail miserably.’ He explained that championing diversity is a way to boost our output as human beings and bring greater cultural understanding into the advertising and marketing work force.

Brawn and Knox then participated in a panel hosted by Karen Blackett, CEO of Mediacom, where they relayed their personal experiences as minorities in industry.

To round off the night, the attendees heard from BBH’s strategy director Simon Gregory and Toby Horry, digital marketing director at Tesco for the brief:

‘How can we help Tesco customers reduce the amount of food that's they waste?’

Let the games begin!

The Great British Diversity Experiment