The diversity debate is about more than gender

The industry faces challenges representing people from low income backgrounds, argues TCEG's Russ Lidstone.

Russ Lidstone is group CEO at The Creative Engagement Group.

As seen recently on C&IT, there continues to be debate around the degree to which representation of women at all levels of the events industry is reflective of a wider diversity and inclusion challenge. 

Based on the world of advertising I previously inhabited, a gender imbalance in favour of women is something I would describe as a nice problem to have. 

The representation of women at senior level is clearly too low – and this needs to be addressed with more flexible working practices for both women and men, and new recruitment practices and policies.

I agree with the notion that ticking boxes or recruiting to quotas is not helpful, as a rule, and that ultimately the most talented people need to be employed and promoted, whatever their gender. 

But measurement is one way of helping leaders to gauge how diverse and reflective of society our organisations are – not just because of our moral responsibility to be good businesses, but also because diverse workforces are proven to be more effective and widely felt to be more creative.

For instance, in 2018, McKinsey research examined over 1,000 companies across 12 countries and found that ‘firms in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21% more likely to enjoy above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile. 

"Companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity, meanwhile, are 33% more likely to see higher-than-average profits than companies in the lowest quartile," it said.

Clearly, the debate needs to evolve to the no less important and broader definition of diversity and inclusion.

My observation is also that the events industry has other equally significant challenges alongside senior female representation – such as opportunities for young people from low income and diverse backgrounds. Access for such groups is limited, while there is no shortage of terrifically talented white female and male, middle class young people keen to join the industry and able to afford the educational cost of entry. 

It’s important to note that this is not simply an events industry issue. While this industry is not – wrongly, in my opinion – technically considered to be a ‘creative industry’, The Creative Industries Federation report in 2017 highlighted the diversity challenge for all companies in the creative space, concluding that "many businesses are still not representative of their communities, and miss out on the creative diversity (and financial rewards) that true representation could offer them".

A broader perspective on diversity and importantly, inclusion, is where I think we should focus our collective attention to make our businesses more effective and representative. There is not merely a social justice to consider, but also a hard-headed effectiveness case to doing so.

What’s more, in my role as chair of trustees for the Creative Mentor Network and as a regular speaker with Speaker for Schools, I can see the benefit that young people from low income and diverse backgrounds get from exposure to professionals in creative industries such as the events industry. 

These young people are often excited by the range of opportunities the wider sector affords but have little or no understanding of what events offers as a career path. 

And I have seen first-hand the benefit that creative businesses get from having a more diverse workforce when the meaning of ‘diversity’ objectives are matched by ‘inclusion’ - such as a myriad of cultural reference points and fresh ways of thinking. 

While I recognise that there are a few apprenticeship schemes and some good individual company initiatives, I don’t think any of us is perfect in this regard and suggest we all have work to do.

The ambition for diversity, inclusion and equality does not mean disadvantage for some and a head start for others. It means equality of opportunity for all. We should be challenging how we approach this – whether by gender, ethnicity, or sexuality, or far beyond these confines. 

The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily represent those of C&IT Magazine.


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