Canadian marketers making little progress on improving diversity: CMA

A new report from the Canadian Marketing Association suggests Canadian marketers have made little or even no progress in terms of improving their workforce diversity, despite strong evidence that meaningful DEI initiatives can help blunt the impact of the “Great Resignation.”

From Engagement to Retention: DEI’s Impact on the Marketing Profession is based on research by RKI, which surveyed approximately 500 marketing professionals working with clients, agencies and other marketing services companies across the country. Now in its second year, the study was developed in collaboration with the CMA’s DEI Committee.

Nearly all of the marketers surveyed (99%) agreed that a fully inclusive workplace benefits everyone, with benefits including more innovation and creativity (75%); stronger employee morale and loyalty (72%); a better understanding of clients and customers (71%); and access to the highest-quality employees (56%).

Yet the report says many organizations have “not made progress in this fundamental area.” Just 22% of survey respondents indicated that their company is “well-diversified,” which represents a 1% decline from the 2021 study, and 15% of respondents indicated their company is not diversified, which is up from 13% in 2021.

Start at the top

Respondents suggest that not having well-diversified leadership can have a tangible negative impact. While 51% of employees at companies considered to have well-diversified leadership reported preventable staff loss during the pandemic, that number rose to 75% among respondents from organizations where leadership is not diverse.

In one verbatim, a senior client-side leader from a marginalized background who worked at a company where the leadership was not diverse, said that he left the organization without lining up another job.

Lack of career opportunities was the most commonly given reason for leaving a role at a non-diversified company. While 93% of respondents from well-diversified organizations indicated that their organization encourages everyone (including from marginalized communities) to apply for new roles when there are openings, that number dropped to 63% among respondents from companies without diverse leadership.

Sartaj Sarkaria, the CMA’s chief diversity officer, and acting chief operating officer, said the research suggests that any meaningful DEI initiative must begin with more diversity in a company’s leadership ranks. This can be accomplished through actions such as appointing a senior DEI lead; requiring diverse hiring for executive roles; and ensuring that decision-making processes include diverse voices and perspectives.

The study also found that nearly one-quarter (24%) of respondents working at companies where the senior teams are not diverse indicated that their organization is making “no effort whatsoever” to retain racialized staff, compared to just 1% of respondents from organizations with well-diversified senior leadership.

Different perceptions

The study also noted wide variances in the perception of DEI amongst various groups. While 94% of non-marginalized men believe their organization will take appropriate action in the event of a discriminatory incident, for example, that number fell to 80% among marginalized women.

In addition, 78% of non-marginalized men believe that people from BIPOC communities rise to senior positions at the same rate as individuals not from these communities, a number that falls to 51% among marginalized men. And while 51% of non-marginalized women agreed with that statement, the number fell to 33% among marginalized women.

Gender inequality

The findings also state that women continue to grapple with the forces of gender bias and ageism, with 52% of non-marginalized women believing that once you reach a certain age, you have no chance of getting hired or promoted. Women are also less likely than men (13% versus 25%) to believe they would be praised if they challenged someone in leadership who made a racial, ethnic or gender-based joke.

More than half of respondents (51%) in non-diversified companies indicated that they have heard an inappropriate joke  at work recently. While that’s down from 60% in the 2021 study, it is considerably higher than the 21% of respondents in well-diversified organizations who said they have heard such a joke (down from 31% last year).

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents from non-diversified organizations said they have recently experienced a microaggression at work, compared to 25% of respondents from companies working in a well-diversified workplace.

“We see from the research that a diverse and inclusive work environment has many benefits, including more innovation and creativity, a better understanding of customers and clients, and stronger employee morale,” said Patrick Bhang, co-chair of the CMA’s DEI committee, and director, new branch format and digital merchandising at RBC in a release.

Chris Powell