Upskilling Programs Are The Key To A Diverse Marketing Team – MarTech Series

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Richard Townsend, CEO and co-Founder of Circus Street, discusses why training can unlock talent within businesses to close the diversity and skills gap
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Creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces is both a moral and a commercial imperative. There’s a few pretty simple reasons why. Having a plurality of experiences and backgrounds creates more points of view, positions and ways of thinking. This in turn enables innovation to flourish as people come at problems with fresh ideas and can apply their diverse knowledge in new ways. It also prevents a company from making simple mistakes by recognising when their initiatives do not take into account other underrepresented groups. For example, in anticipating bias in data science projects or preventing insensitive marketing messages.
However, as businesses can quickly find out, creating a more diverse workplace is easier said than done. Companies that lack diversity more often than not suffer from institutional problems that prevent underrepresented groups applying for roles, being hired or developing into more senior leadership roles. Research indicates that unconscious bias can play a major role. People either hire or promote new team members that are like themselves or have perceptions of particular groups that lead them to believe they would not be suited for a particular role. This can lead to a spiral where a company becomes more and more homogeneous. Many business leaders also argue that diversity is inextricably linked to the skills gap – there simply aren’t enough people from underrepresented groups embarking on careers in areas such as development or data science to help representation.
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Breaking these cycles requires a more proactive approach. Businesses simply can’t wait for the skills gap to close by itself nor can they assume that hiring and promotion practices will change without intervention. So how can organisations take a big step forward? The answer can be found in developing an upskilling program.
Looking specifically at marketing, the perception is that there is less of a diversity problem. Indeed, women do make up around 60% of marketers and, in the UK, 11% of workers are BAME – which is in line for the population as a whole. However, delve a little deeper and we see that both BAME and female marketers are hugely underrepresented at senior and mid-management roles. BAME representation as a whole is also misleading. The vast majority of the UK’s marketing companies are in London where the population is around 40% BAME. If we also consider the marketing technology sector – representation is even worse and more in line with the wider tech industry.
On paper at least, there are plenty of people from underrepresented groups already in marketing. The issue is that they are not able to rise up through the ranks. In fact, with marketing increasingly becoming a more technical and data-driven field, we are actually at risk of diversity figures going quickly in the wrong direction. The obvious answer is for businesses to concentrate on cultivating the talent they already have and hiring more diverse team members with a view to developing their skill sets.
As mentioned, this isn’t just because it is equitable, it also makes complete business sense. Modern marketing requires an increasing array of specialist skills and knowledge of more and more new technical solutions and techniques. It is incredibly costly, not to mention time consuming, to hire experts to cover all of these developments. Instead, growing your own talent in a targeted way is much more efficient. You can continuously upskill existing team members with knowledge that is directly relevant to your business and they can then apply these learnings immediately. Training can be tailored to the aspirations and innate abilities of each individual. As an added bonus, training and development programs have been shown to vastly increase worker satisfaction and improve retention.
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Training and development schemes also have a tendency to smash down preconceived notions organisations have about their team. Many of the businesses we work with are surprised at the hidden talents of their workers and their aptitude and appetite for acquiring new expertise. It can also highlight how some workers have been pigeonholed into certain roles simply because of what managers think they want or because they feel they are unable to ask for more opportunities. In short, it can help to tackle the unconscious bias that is so harmful to diversity goals.
At its core, upskilling gives every person the ability to develop their skills and progress their career. It’s not a silver bullet to the diversity problem, but applied thoughtfully, it can be a huge step in the right direction.
Richard Townsend is CEO and co-Founder of Circus Street
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