“Quite simply,” responded Khuvutlu, “we attended the Disability Career Expo with one goal in mind – to encourage young learners with disabilities to consider a career in advertising.
“And there are several reasons why we did this. Firstly, as fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, friends and colleagues, we know – we live and breathe – the truth that meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion must include all.
“Second, as marketers and advertising professionals, we believe a diversity of lived experiences makes the currency of our industry – creativity – far, far richer.
“Then, as realists, we acknowledge that ‘disabled’ or differently-abled people are not adequately represented in our popular culture and society. There are many challenges they face, and here lies a tremendous opportunity for authentic brands to make a difference.
“Finally, as problem solvers, we know that, to connect the dots, we need people in our industry with lived experience. In a country as diverse as ours it is critical that our team reflects that diversity to enable us to create work that resonates with all South Africans.”
Khuvutlu pointed out that diversity is part of FCB’s DNA and the key ingredient that has enabled it to create the most loved ad of the last three decades, create the most loved ad of the last 15 years and create the most loved campaign in Millward Brown history.
He, however, praised Sarjoo for her initiative in bringing the expo to the agencies’ attention and for advocating they do more to extend the breadth of their diversity, equity and inclusion activities.
“Melanie has first-hand experience of the challenges facing persons with disabilities,” he said. “As mother to a young teenager with mild cerebral palsy, she has challenged their exclusion from mainstream society for over 12 years, at one stage starting and managing a foundation advocating inclusive education. We are very grateful for her passion and willingness to help us do better,” he said.
Sarjoo interjected to add that she is not the only employee in the agency group with family members living with disabilities. This, plus the group’s track record of embracing change and leading from the front to redress inequity in the industry and in its workforce, has engendered a positive and open culture. For example, it was the first in the industry to conclude a broad-based empowerment partner (2003) and is today 51% Black-owned and 43% Black female-owned.
According to Khuvutlu, FCB Joburg and Hellocomputer approach diversity on three levels – workforce, workplace and creative work.
“For workforce, we actively strive to reflect the diversity of South Africa’s population, across all levels including leadership. One of the actions we have taken on this front is to take steps to identify disabled learners who would qualify to join our programme. We are also ensuring that leadership adopts innovative ways to foster and retain talent.
In addition, as a group our employment equity new hires target is set at a minimum 70% PDI (previously disadvantaged individuals) for senior management level and 90% of new hires at top level management must be previously disadvantaged individuals.
“With the workplace we seek to create a healthy and vibrant environment that is inclusive and engaged, actively rooting out bias and oppression in any form. Here, we are committed to open and honest conversations as a group and in 2021 we embarked on a White Allyship Initiative which flipped the script on engaging our white employees to learn and own how they show up transformed in addressing their own biases, ideas or thinking towards racism and white privilege.
“Which then takes us to creative work where our aim is to create culturally-competent work and solutions for our clients. This is achieved through our tools such as ‘The WOW’, or ‘Watch Out Words’.
“The WOW was created to help develop cultural competence and mitigate the negative impacts of unconscious bias in our work. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) issues are easier to discuss when you have the right terminology and context for the conversation.
“The WOW takes the form of living dictionary that is educational and assists our teams understand words and concepts like appropriation, objectification and marginalisation. This gives them the ability to accurately debate work and helps us identify damaging work early in the creative process,” he said.
“There are so many different ways to make a change and an impact,” concluded Sarjoo. “Sometimes, it’s looking inward, others outward. And it’s wonderful when we can partner with like-minded clients to make the proverbial difference.
“As a society, an industry and an agency group, we have a long way to go until we can claim to have achieved satisfactory diversity, equity and inclusion. But I am so proud that we are actively engaged on all levels throughout our business,” she said.