A Voice of One
The typical running order of things for most new businesses is this. Land the idea, come up with a name, make it happen.
Ours was different. Back in 2016 we wanted to start something, but had no idea what. The initial dream was a vermouth. Then with no greater logic, an importer of alcoholic drinks. And then with more sensible rationale, the creative agency that we are today. But throughout that convoluted expedition, we knew our name.
The order of things was telling, because before we even knew what we were bringing to the world we had a desire for our business to help protect what we loved about it. A perhaps naive, but impassioned vision of creating a culture guided by our name.
48.1 – whatever 48.1 was destined to be – was centred around the power of truly open minds. A celebration of diversity in thought. And above all, inclusion. In other words, everything we felt the Brexit vote was the antithesis of. And everything we believed the 48.1% voted for.
We were convinced that if we built an entity centred around our beliefs and values as human beings, then others would naturally rally behind it. And to a large extent, we’ve been proven right. In the early days it became a galvanising reason for likeminded people and organisations to place their trust in us, when there was minimal proof that we could deliver the work they were paying us to do.
Let me clarify the ‘we’. ‘We’ comprised of 5 people. Simon, Paddy, Joe, James and I.
Friends and family. But 5 very different characters with 5 complementary skill sets, 5 strong opinions, 5 varied career paths, each bringing something unique and valuable to the table.
We then hired our first team member.
That made it 6.
As fast as our overly excitable feet had found peace under our co-working hot desks, we had our first challenge to confront. And it was a pretty major one.
We’d created an agency whose reality was the precise opposite to what our name, purpose and values preached. Instead of being the voice of the minority, we’d somehow ended up with the face of the majority – and a voice of one. The male voice.
Our response was immediate. The next three hires were all female. 5 out of our next 7 were too. And fast forward 3 years and we now have a studio of 14 brilliantly talented people, a 57/43% gender split, spanning 5 different nationalities and 6 disciplines covering strategy, design, motion, messaging, development and client services.
It was never about ticking boxes. We strongly believed that this would make for better work, foster a richer environment and empower a team that challenged what we did, pushed us into new waters and held us all to account.
Every single one of those points has been validated.
Last month we were in the fortunate position to hire again.
Everybody we recruit receives a welcome pack. A little introduction around what to expect from working at 48.1. The perks. What their first two weeks look like. What we expect from them. What they should demand from us.
It also includes a page introducing them to their team – names, job title and a photo.
And what was staring back at me was our latest wake up call. What we once viewed as a broad, rich, diverse, inclusive studio suddenly screamed the exact opposite.
It was a whitewash.
One argument – the comforting one – was that we now had different characters, genders, cultural backgrounds and skillsets. That in itself represents diversity, which is true.
But the other argument – the uncomfortable and necessary one – was that we still had a voice of one; the white voice.
It’s not a totally new revelation to us. The murder of George Floyd back in May 2020 shone a new, stark spotlight on a long-entrenched issue, conveniently tucked away for centuries in the ‘sort out later’ pile.
The lack of BIPOC talent across the creative industry is blisteringly evident. Representation accounts for just 13%. And 88% of those in senior roles are white. Just two of the stats that paint a dismal picture of the lack of opportunity afforded to those so regularly marginalised in society.
48.1’s current BIPOC representation sits at 0%. The same for the transgender and disabled communities. And we have no representation at the top of our tree for anything other than white, British and male.
And whilst it’s terrifying as a business owner to zoom out and risk being confronted with a reality at odds with your fundamental values, it needs doing – incessantly.
The fear of failure has immobilised us all for too long. That trepidation of not knowing how to start, who to reach out to, what to ask, how to progress, how to help, how to solve.
But in truth, not tabling the issue would be a far more damaging concept. One that runs the inexcusable risk of a team doubling in size and scope, but staying singular in range and ethnicity.
We’ve taken some steps. All job opportunities at 48.1 are now advertised to a far broader network – actively targeting, and crucially prioritising under-represented groups. We are utilising available functionality on Slack in order to cement best practice guidelines around the language we use with each other and our clients. We’ve implemented a scheme offering 24/7 mental health support for all. We are in active and ongoing discussions with our female workforce about how best to ensure 48.1 is as safe, inclusive and empowering an environment for them as it can be.
But it’s not enough. There’s work to be done. People to converse with, debates to engage in and uncomfortable truths to be heard. And we know that inclusion cannot be a topic tackled at surface level. It needs to be deep-rooted, long-lasting and with its impact rippling out far beyond 48.1.
Our business has always existed to solve client’s biggest challenges. Yet, whilst our business has been evolving and the world transforming at rapid pace, we’re now aware that ‘inclusion’ is not a project to be ‘solved’ via a slick process and a smart idea. Nor can it be something we tackle alone.
It needs confronting with purpose. It requires collaboration with those equally willing to zoom out, look inwards and help turn some heavy tides.
Our conversation began in 2016. It continues today – only this time with everybody.