Words: Priya Bhurji
Earlier in the year I was asked to speak on a panel for Balance, to discuss various point relating to being from a BAME background in the OOH industry. The panel was hosted by Naren Patel, former CEO of Primesight. The panel included people of all levels within the industry, including two very senior members of their respective businesses (Julian Douglas, VCCP and Tanya Joseph, Nationwide). Alongside Julian and Tanya were Nadia Atchia; Marketing Manager at Posterscope, and me. We have both been in the industry for 2-3 years. Throughout the panel, it became evident that there are generational and seniority differences of opinion on the topic of BAME talent in media.
Nadia and I both held the same belief that we have never felt like a minority in our workplaces and that being from a BAME background hasn’t held us back in our careers so far. From my personal experience, having worked at various media agencies before working at JCDecaux, I have always worked alongside a diverse group of people. In contrast, Tanya and Julian had felt that during their careers they were the minority, especially as they climbed up the ladder into more senior roles. This sparked the conversation on how there is still a shortage of senior leaders within the industry, that are either female or from a BAME background. Conclusively it was agreed that there is still more to be done to address this. I believe that this is concerning for people like myself that aspire to go far within the OOH industry, as it makes you wonder why the stats are so low; particularly for BAME women in senior roles, and whether opportunity exists.
Following on from this conversation, the panel moved onto the proposed concept of the government enforcing diversity quotas for organisations, as this would force companies to submit their diversity stats and subsequently drive out prejudice when hiring/promoting staff. Nadia and I disputed that this would more likely lead towards equal stats rather than equal opportunity. As a female from a BAME background I would never want to be hired or promoted because I tick a box. I would want to be hired because I am the best person for the job. However, Tanya disagreed, arguing that she had felt similar during the early stages of her career, but now believes using statistics and measurements is the best way of driving change. Clearly this is still a matter that needs to be discussed further and will be interesting to see the effects of the proposal should it be enforced by the government.
A further topic of the discussion was how we can attract more diverse talent at entry level. There is still a lack of awareness of the OOH industry amongst students and education establishments. I believe that we need to collectively to promote OOH further – working with selective schools and universities, having a presence at career fairs, whilst being involved with outreach programmes could help. To make the OOH message land, it may benefit to send a diverse group of people to career fairs or to speak at education establishments. This would show that role models exist and there is the potential to succeed within the industry.
I feel that to make a difference and succeed in creating a more diverse workforce in OOH, we should continue to hold events that address points that can sometimes be uncomfortable for people to discuss openly. This is the only way that we can drive change. For me, being part of the panel highlighted the improvements and initiatives that are still needed, and I feel that everyone that attended left with new information and ideas for how they can effect change within their own organisations. I hope that in a year’s time, if this panel is to re-occur, there will be a further understanding and inclusion of BAME cultures and people in OOH.