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Channel 4’s Diversity Award exposes a sad truth

Channel 4’s inaugural Diversity in Advertising Award is a welcomed and commendable stand against the advertising industry’s failure in representing people from minority groups. Yet, once again, it’s one light flickering alone in a sea of inaction.

2016 saw us rejoicing in the launch of a new TV advertising campaign from Maltesers. Selected as the winning entrant for Channel 4’s Superhumans Wanted competition, it was celebrated for normalising disability in a humorous yet respectful tone; challenging perceptions of what it means to live with a physical or mental impairment.

This same person sat in the same seat at the same time last year hoping that this was the dawning of a new era: one where brands and agencies recognise the diversity that enriches our society, and represent it accordingly.

Sadly, it hasn’t really worked out that way.

It’s all well and good for the advertising industry to laud examples of creativity that celebrate diversity, but what is becoming all too clear is a widespread unwillingness or inability to build on these isolated moments of inspiration.

It suggests either a lack of care or courage on behalf of broadcasters, brands and agencies; an ambivalence towards the importance of representing the 13% of the UK population that comes from a BAME background, the 17.9% of the population classed as disabled, and the 3.5% who identify as gay.

Simply look at research from Lloyds Bank. A report published last year found that just 19% of ads launched by the country’s top 20 TV and press advertisers featured people from a minority group, with less than 1% representing people with disabilities. Ethnic minorities? The LGBT community? Single parents? The story reads the same.

One effective step towards combatting the issue would be for the advertising industry to embrace diversity from the inside. Whilst improvements have arguably been made in recent years, the perception that the world of media is a predominantly white, male hegemony remains a pertinent one.

We need more leaders from minority backgrounds, greater gender equality, and a more diverse field of creative talent, where different ideas and perspectives can be harvested to fashion a fairer, more representative industry. 

As somebody who has a disability, the fact we’re still making a huge song and dance about a competition that rewards a brand featuring characters with a physical or mental impairment does not sit well.

Channel 4's lone crusade to bring representations of diversity to the fore (with the first ever TV ads for Gay Pride also set to be launched by the broadcaster in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of LGBT rights) is something we should be celebrating, yet such initiatives must become the norm - they shouldn't be so news-worthy, or come with the £1 million carrot of free airtime. Unless I missed the big research piece that proved only white, straight and able-bodied middle-class folk watch TV?

I’m proud to work for a company that embraces the UK’s diversity. One that works with many brands closely affiliated with ethnic minorities. One where men and women have access to the same opportunities. And one that gives somebody like myself a chance to demonstrate what they can do.

Yet am I proud to be working in the industry? That’s more difficult to answer.