Why Chris Rock And Martin Sorrell would Totally Get Along

Diversity – or its absence - has featured heavily in the news this last week. The lack of African-Americans nominated for Oscars led some to boycott the ceremony, gave rise to the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, and prompted Chris Rock – as host – to devote his entire ten minute speech to the subject.

And in our own little world of advertising, last week saw the launch of the Cannes Lions 2016 ‘See It Be It’ initiative, whose aim is to support and develop the industry's female creatives. Worldwide, it’s estimated that less than 25% of agency creatives are female and just 3% are Creative Directors. Not cool.

Even Martin Sorrell was talking about diversity last week. He wrote in WPP’s annual report that “while we have never believed that only a teenager can understand a teenager or only a pensioner can understand a pensioner, there can be no doubt that diversity among our people is a professional necessity.

” That phrase ‘professional necessity’ is extremely interesting. Mr Sorrell is not just positioning diversity as an equality issue, but as a quality issue. He believes, quite simply, that a more diverse workforce will produce better work.

“For us, diversity is not simply a question of race, colour or gender,” he writes. “At least as important is a diversity of attitude, of mind-set, of ways of approaching problems.”

What’s smart about this is how he’s changing the debate by changing the language. He’s not describing diversity as something agencies ‘ought to do’ but as something agencies ‘must do’ (necessity), and not because it’s the right thing to do but because it’s essential for better problem-solving, i.e. doing a better job.

Now that’s progress.