The ‘troubling’ diversity numbers for Canada’s planners and strategists

—We cannot be content with doing the bare minimum to attract diverse talent, and therefore diverse thinking, to our industry, says MICHELLE CAMPBELL—

Over the last few weeks, agencies and brands have scrambled to prepare statements of solidarity or commitment to the Black community. Whether you’re thankful to see action and acknowledgement, or feel it’s too little too late, most can agree that it is a pivotal time to look inside our industry at how we are contributing to structural inequality through our creative, hiring and talent practices.

In late 2019, the Account Planning Group of Canada (APG), in partnership with the research company Stone-Olafson, conducted the first-ever salary survey amongst strategists and planners in Canada. The results were intended to be released at an event early this year, which was unfortunately postponed due to Covid-19. However, there are two key findings that are relevant to this moment in our industry and important to talk about now.

On the surface, visible minority representation in our survey reflects the general population, with 21% of respondents identifying as such (compared to 22% of Canadians). But, looking below the surface—as all good planners should—the numbers quickly become more troubling.

First and foremost, pay disparity is striking. We are not paying people of colour anywhere near the same as white strategists. For every $1 a white strategist earns, a person of colour—depending on level of experience— is paid between $0.76 and $0.88. That’s an average of 20% less for the same job—a staggering finding.

Second, we are not setting people of colour up for success within our agencies. Breaking down the representation numbers by level of seniority, we see that only 8.7% of strategists with over 10 years of experience are people of colour. This means that the vast majority of leadership roles are held by white strategists. It is hard to attract top talent when they cannot see a long and successful career path for people like themselves within our industry.

We cannot be content with doing the bare minimum to attract diverse talent, and therefore diverse thinking, to our industry.

While the numbers show that diversity is on the rise in the entry level, where nearly a third of roles are held by people of colour, it is clear that we lack support, training, and the fair wages required to ensure agencies become a safe and supportive environment in which people of colour can not only work, but excel and lead.

The role of the planner or strategist has always been to be the expert on, and advocate for, the consumer. They should understand how people think, feel and behave in order to ensure the work we create is relevant and resonates with the people we are trying to reach. Which is why the findings within our salary survey are so alarming.

There are many areas of improvement that agencies must prioritize to address inequality within our industry, and it’s highly likely that other disciplines would see similar problems if they surveyed their people. But our creative work is seen by millions of people every day, and it always starts with a brief. Shouldn’t those briefs be written by people who better represent everyone we are trying to reach?

Michelle Campbell is vice-president of strategy at Toronto agency Huge and a board member with the Account Planning Group of Canada.