Why diversity really matters

Visha Naul, Industry Partnerships Lead, B2B Marketing, YouTube/Google

It’s a new year with new challenges and new agendas. But this does not mean that the issues that dominated plenty of discussion (and prompted some but not enough action) over the past year should be wrapped up and popped into the attic with the Christmas decorations. Diversity is one such hot topic.
More and more businesses are wising up to the fact that diversity is a real issue that is crucial to recruiting and retaining talent, creating a better working environment, prompting better thinking in our teams and improving customer perception of the organisation. These are all factors that are vital to boosting a company’s bottom line and means tackling diversity is far more than just a box ticking exercise.
For instance, businesses in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to enjoy financial returns above their respective national industry median average, while companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to outperform their respective national industry averages (as stated by McKinsey data).
And when diversity is taken seriously, it helps create a work culture where people like me, an Indian woman, feel like I’m in an environment where all voices are considered equally and I can genuinely contribute.

Taking you back
I come from a single-parent family, led by my strong, independent mum who raised three children by tailoring. Our much-needed income went towards household essentials and clothing. We didn’t have the chance to go on family holidays and learn about the wider opportunities in the world. My world was limited by what my mum presented to me and what the schools I went to told me.
Fresh from university, I took on roles at MTV, then Channel 4 before joining TV trade marketing body, Thinkbox. It was a great education about advertising, an industry that I found hugely exciting. But it left me asking questions: why hadn’t I known about this dynamic world? Why did it feel like an exclusive club that was hidden to most of us? Why don’t schools and universities know more about it and educate their students?
Was I worthy of fitting in?
I rarely read about people of a BAME background leading debate and discussion in trade press mags, I rarely saw them on event platforms. I rarely saw them working with me. I rarely saw them in ads.  So, for me, this started to become normal, yet it also highlighted to me that maybe I didn’t belong in this environment. I shouldn’t, or perhaps couldn’t, have a voice here - this must sound surprising to anyone that’s reading this and knows me personally, as I can’t usually shut up.
Diverse teams are dedicated teams
Harvard Business Review article explains why inclusive environments encourage more intelligent thinking by citing a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study found that a group made up of people brought together from different social and cultural backgrounds outperforms homogenous groups when it comes to assessing facts and remaining objective. When researchers analysed these two groups of people (one diverse and one not) they came up with a key insight - the diverse group worked hard cognitively, and the homogenous group fell into group-thinking and became lazy. The diverse group even spent more time dissecting the facts of a case and made fewer mistakes.
Try not to blame the blind spot
No-one means to be exclusive (I hope). It’s just how the industry has worked for a long time without someone saying “Hold on! This does not resemble the real world.”
We just didn’t notice the lack of people of all sorts of colour in trade mags and on event panels until diversity started becoming a topic of discussion (and occasionally outrage). We rarely saw people of disability in ads or at work until Mars’ Maltesers ad or Channel 4’s ‘Meet the Superhumans’ campaign and we paid little attention to the lack of women in leadership roles until WACLmembers made it their mission to highlight to the industry that there is a problem. So quite naturally, until the blind spot is uncovered we don’t notice or ask the right questions. And we continue to ask women to take meeting notes over men, forget disabilities are normal and not should not make us uncomfortable, and don’t realise that people of all social backgrounds and ethnicities lead to progressive and future-forward thinking.
Uncovering the blind spot
Change is happening. It takes time, but we will get there. I’m incredibly lucky to have been surrounded by superwomen like  Thinkbox’s Tess Alps and Lindsey Clay, and now in my new role at Google - Nishma Robb. But I need to keep championing my ideals and I keep them alive through networking with like-minded people. In fact, I helped co-found such a network specifically for WACL Future Leader Award winners called FUTURES.  
Towards the end of last year, I took up my new role at Google. The company’s mission is to increase access to information and I’ve been delighted to find Google’s approach to diversity is a natural extension of that mission. It aims to increase access to opportunity by breaking down barriers and empowering people through technology. I can see how the diversity of perspectives, ideas, and cultures is leading to the creation of better products and services. Innovation and creativity flourish when a variety of backgrounds and experiences are involved in decision-making. Google still has progress to make but it’s committed to the goal.
It’s my hope that this year we all continue to support the industry bodies that talk to students and explain how to enter this exciting world we call ‘adland’, that we continue to read research about why diversity is great for business and society and that we act on these findings with initiatives such as Grey’s Diversity Taskforce. This is a great effort to support our colleagues in adland so that they know their voice matters – but the more such projects, the better.

Words by Visha Naul.

Last updated 22/01/2018

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