Robert Strohfeldt

Current diversity drive leading to more division than harmony

The countrywide push for diversity is upon is. However, it is not always a benefit, and that is bleedingly obvious in the ad space. We should operate on merit, not quota.

 

 

There is an old (and wise) statement most people would have heard – “Steer clear of discussing politics, sex and religion at dinner parties.”

But if you want to work in advertising, then it is mandatory to be able to understand and communicate with the diverse range of people who make up the Australian community. (All but the extreme nutters at either end of this spectrum, that is). To be an effective communicator, a person must be open to and aware of the sociopolitical issues swirling around. (So, politics, sex and religion are nearly always on, or lurking near the top of the agenda.)

A major topic of discussion is diversity in the workplace. Rather than the nefarious reasons given by social warriors for change, the logic behind the push for greater diversity cannot be faulted.

A homogeneous workplace, particularly in creative businesses, is not reflective of the diversity within the community to whom we are speaking, but more concerning is the lack of diversity of ideas that will come out of a group of people who all share the same attitudes and beliefs.

I have watched the advertising industry become less and less diverse over the past 15 to 20 years. To many in the business, diversity is about gender, skin colour and sexuality. A total load of bullshit – diversity comes from the mind, not physical attributes.

A group of people who differ in ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation may all have very similar attitudes and philosophies and hence do not constitute a diverse group.

The advertising business is far more politicised than it ever was in the past. Objectivity, as in what the target audience wants or feels, is replaced with how they should want or feel, according to the loud minority who seem to be setting community standards through social media. (Though not the all-powerful advertising medium it was originally made out to be, there is no doubting its power for propaganda.)

 

A group of people who differ in ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation may all have very similar attitudes and philosophies and hence do not constitute a diverse group.

 

Australia has a rich history of diversity – arguably the most multicultural of all developed societies (and underdeveloped, where ethnic or religious differences frequently lead to explosive violence).

The current drive to diversity is leading more to division than harmony.

Looking objectively at the results of the SSM survey, some 40% of the people voted “No”. So, in a room of 10 people, six will be for and four against. That is hardly an overwhelming majority and if not handled delicately and with respect for everybody’s beliefs, could lead to conflict.

Adding irony to the results is that in the communities for which the left supposedly has great empathy, the “No” vote was as high as 80%. I was reading a report on this and one of the Green’s tweeted “Highlighting such figures just provides ammunition to the bigots.”

So, the truth should not be reported or discussed?

One of the many changes to the ad industry over the past 15 or so years has been the reduction in the diversity of the people. Some of the best creatives I have worked with did not go to university and came from underprivileged families. It was a melting pot of backgrounds, experiences, attitudes and philosophies, all melded together by respect.

Advertising was not perfect on the issue of gender equality, though historically it was nowhere near as male-dominated as many other industries. Gender equality in opportunities and pay, whilst varying in degree from industry to industry, has been a societal issue. Attitudes have changed from when girls were taught “domestic science” at school (the science of being an obedient housewife, having hubby’s dinner ready when he came home from work).

 

Advertising is more politicised than ever. What the target audience wants or feels is replaced with how they should want or feel, according to the loud minority setting community standards through social media.

 

More and more women are looking to have careers now, so it is only natural the percentage participation across all levels will increase.

Sexuality? Bloody hell, I don’t know anyone who did not have gay staff and friends. It was a non-event. As in, no-one gave a toss about sexual preference, the measure of a person’s worth was in the quality of their work. Though I must admit, it would still be difficult for a drag queen to find management roles.

But now, more and more people working in the industry think very much the same. As mentioned, diversity of thought is the pay-off for diversity in the workplace. We are turning into an industry of inner city elites. (Not all, but a far cry from the ’80s and ’90s.) The industry has acted like sheep on so many issues – the Magpie Generation, as Mark Ritson once said. If it is bright, shiny, new and “digital”, they must have it. Objective thinking has been replaced by “group think” and often work is done that will appeal to their peers, rather than the target market.

I wonder how some would go about advertising to the four out of ten people who voted “No”?

“Even Bigoted Bastards Love Cadbury.”

Or maybe:

“Carlton Draught. Refresh the Homophobe in You.”

Workplace diversity should be about equal opportunity (and pay) for all, irrespective of gender, ethnicity and sexual preference.

Many similarities have been drawn between sport and business. The most successful sporting teams (male and female) have an unwritten code of “no dickheads”. Talent alone is not enough. Just as important is the impact that person will have on the team.

Those who would like to see quotas brought in to ensure that workplace identity is a replica of society will do more harm than good. The odds of a head or a tail, when tossing a coin, are 50/50. But if you tossed a coin 10 times, rarely would the result be five heads and five tails. The same principle of statistical variance applies to people. Quotas result in tokenism and eventually, resentment as people who are less talented, qualified or both are appointed to positions, simply to ensure “diversity”.

People should have equal opportunity and access. But how a person progresses along their chosen path should be based on how they perform, not some crazy quota system to ensure the workplace is a microcosm of society at large.

I dread the day when I must explain to a client the reason for the terrible art direction:

“As you know we have quotas to fill and the art director of your business is the best one-legged, gay Callithumpian art director money can buy.”

 

Robert Strohfeldt

Robert started his career as a mathematician (BSc Pure & Statistical Maths UQ), working in market research for George Kelly. As well as sampling and data analysis (well before data the focus now on data), he became heavily involved in qualitative research. His clients included Johnson & Johnson, Cottee, Tooheys, Nestle, Goodman Fielder, Swift and Moore. He moved to advertising (Masius) in 1983, working in research and strategy. (Prior to the days of Planners). Over the next 7 years, he worked in strategy and management with McCann Erickson, Clemenger and Saatchi & Saatchi. At Saatchi, he met Grahame Bond (aka Aunty Jack) and we founded Bond Strohfeldt in 1990. For the next 14 years, the agency was in the top 10 Australian owned shops. It sported a diverse range of clients such as the ATO, Samsung, Bridgestone, BBQs Galore, Case Machinery, Ritz-Carlton Hotels, Daewoo, Trade Indemnity/QBE, Case Machinery and many more. Since 2009 he has run a specialist communications strategy and creative advisory firm, Strohfeldt Communications Group (www.thescg.com.au). They work with clients on an ongoing basis, as well as projects developing communications strategies and creative executions.

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