Opinion: Advancing diversity and inclusion in India's advertising & media industry: A roadmap

In the A&M space, diversity and inclusion shouldn't just be a checklist to tick off, but should be deeply embedded within the core business strategies. Akshay CM of DDB Mudra Group pens a piece on understanding and implementing the term D&I better.

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Diversity and Inclusion

Emphasising the basics

We are storytellers, we are in the business of emotions, and we are drivers of culture. In the stories and narratives, we put into the world, we wield the power to shape perceptions, start conversations, and ultimately drive change. In this field of advertising and marketing, Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) not only fuels creativity but should be deeply embedded within our core business strategy, propelling us towards a more inclusive future.

D&I isn’t just a checkbox, it is at the core of what we do in Advertising & Media (A&M) – telling diverse stories. It signifies the deliberate, conscious effort to include individuals from diverse backgrounds in all facets of the industry, not only because representation is important, but because it’s imperative we create a space where varied perspectives are not only acknowledged but they are celebrated and deeply cherished.

Beyond being an ethical obligation, D&I translates into concrete financial gains. Research consistently shows that organizations embracing D&I outperform their peers in terms of profitability, innovation, and customer satisfaction. Diverse teams bring a wealth of perspectives, and new ideas nurturing innovation through a mosaic of ideas.

It all starts with YOU

The creative content that is created by us reflects who we are and what values we hold. The self and the creative we put out there are deeply interwoven together. Therefore, the work of putting better, inclusive content out there begins with us. As storytellers, we must be mindful of the narratives we perpetuate, use inclusive language and imagery and constantly challenge biases and cultural stereotypes within ourselves. The progress we make on the personal front will make the content we produce that much richer. The impact of D&I directly affects the quality, authenticity and even resonance of the creative product we put out there.

Hence, it is imperative that the A&M industry invests in its employees and champions D&I initiatives such as workshops, training, constant educational programs and sensitization classes to empower our employees. By constantly learning and challenging themselves, content creators evolve beyond cookie-cutter narratives and create trail-blazing stories.

Stepping into D&I – where to start?

Just like every other industry, gender bias and underrepresentation have long cast shadows over the A&M industry. Leadership positions have been historically held by men, women have been often denied the opportunity to claim positions of power and decision-making.  

Elevating women to leadership roles corrects a historical injustice and drives new perspectives that drive innovation. It is imperative that we achieve the correct proportional representation of the company’s women employees in top-level leadership positions. Women’s leadership programs, affirmative action, and positive discrimination are necessary for this. The journey towards inclusivity within the realm of gender would mean a steadfast commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community which comprises at least 10% of our population. Too often, corporates across reduced the facet of gender to just women, to understand the intricacies of identity, we must use the tool of Intersectionality.

Enter Intersectionality

Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, the American civil rights activist, intersectionality acknowledges that we don’t carry just one identity, but a web of identities that shape our lives and experiences. Recognising the intersection of class, caste, ability, gender and other socio-economic identities is extremely important in our efforts to dismantle systemic barriers within the workplace. 

Embracing intersectionality would necessitate a comprehensive overhaul of the practices and policies within the A&M sector. It would involve critically examining how D&I initiatives way inadvertently exclude specific groups due to their unique intersectional identities. This would involve organisational-level initiatives to amplify the voices and narratives of individuals who often find themselves marginalised due to their complexity of identities.

Perhaps, there is no other industry like ours where the direct impact of organizational change on the product is so pronounced. Having an intersectional perspective translates into campaigns that resonate with a broader audience by reflecting the authentic experiences of people from diverse backgrounds.

A Holistic Approach to Inclusivity

Creating a truly inclusive and diverse environment in the Indian A&M industry would mean a commitment to embracing a culture of inclusion that can redefine the landscape of creativity, innovation and societal impact. While progressive policies are a good start, the cultural transformation journey is an ongoing one that calls for collective effort, unwavering dedication and a profound understanding of the value inherent in every individual’s unique lived experiences. 

Here is where strong leadership comes into play. In driving change, leaders are central in shaping the narrative of inclusivity through their actions, advocacy, and decisions. Without leadership buy-in, all the D&I initiatives will merely remain as checkboxes. When leaders truly embody the spirit of D&I and lead by example, organizational transformation inevitably follows.

In the end, as storytellers and culture-shapers, we paint with a powerful brush that has a monumental effect on perceptions, emotions and societal evolution. It is a h responsibility but also an opportunity to channel creativity to see manifest change around us. The A&M industry cannot drive change or become the beacon of progressive thought without significant introspection. Every change starts from within, and when we initiate those organisational changes, intersectionality should be the framework that guides us.

In the path of becoming the best with innovative thought and creativity, the A&M industry should embrace stepping outside comfort zones and question dominant assumptions within and without to ensure growth.

This opinion piece on D&I in the A&M industry is penned by Akshay CM (he/them), DEI & Talent Management, DDB Mudra Group. 

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