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Survey of DEI in global marketing business

No improvements of DEI in global marketing business

The advertising business shows no improvement on diversity, equity and inclusion. Nearly one in seven members of the global marketing industry say they would leave the industry on the back of a lack of DEI, a survey by World Federation of Advertises shows. “The greatest forms of discrimination are still on basis of age, gender and care-giving status. Disabled respondents report the worst lived experiences.” The results are based on nearly 13 000 responses from 91 countries.

“The picture is even worse among certain groups, with 16% of women (almost 1 in 6), 17% of LGBQ+ (1 in 6), 22% of ethnic minorities (more than 1 in 5) and 24% of disabled respondents (almost 1 in 4), say they are likely to leave.” 

“Younger professionals (25-34 years) and caregivers are also slightly more likely to leave than the global average (18% vs 14%).”

The federation says the overall one in seven figure remains the same as that found by the first Global Census on DEI in 2021, despite efforts that companies have made to increase diversity, retain talent and improve their appeal to potential employees.

“Those efforts are recognised, however, with nearly three in four (72%) respondents globally acknowledging industry attempts to improve the lived experiences of key groups.” 

The numbers vary widely by country though peaking in Canada (87%), the USA (87%) and Singapore (86%), but are significantly lower in Japan (49%), Slovenia (51%) and Poland (54%).

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Half the respondents to the survey (50%) said things have improved but three in ten (30%) said things were the same as in 2021. Responses varied by country. Seven in ten agreed that things had improved in Spain (70%) and Brazil (69%), but only three in ten agreed in Sweden (30%), Japan (32%) and Poland (32%). 

In the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), 9% respondents said things had got worse. 


Globally, those in senior positions were more likely to report that things have improved (58%) compared with managers (49%) and junior staff (42%).

The global DEI inclusion index was 64% in 2021 (69% for men and 61% for women) and this year it is 63%, and still 69% for men and 61% for women. For LGBQ+ respondents, the Index has fallen two points from 60% to 58%.

The federation reports that the three countries to record the biggest improvements were New Zealand (up 10 percentage points to 71%), South Africa (up seven points to 61%) and Ireland (up six points to 68%).

The biggest three declines were recorded in Hong Kong SAR (down six points to 61%), The Gulf Cooperation Council (down four points to 57%) and the Netherlands (down four points to 63%).

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“The most common forms of discrimination reported are still around age, gender and family status. 41% of women, 42% of parents and 39% of caregivers feel that family responsibilities hinder one’s career.” 

12% of 18-24 year-olds and 17% of 55-64 years said they personally experienced age discrimination compared to an overall global average of 8%.


“Women, LGBQ+, ethnic minority and disabled respondents still have worse experiences than their counterparts. Men reported living better work experiences (69%) than women (61%), the federation says. 

“Disabled respondents reported living the worst work experiences (45% versus 67% non-disabled).” 

“Women, disabled and ethnic minority respondents are all more likely to say they are unfairly spoken over (30% of women versus 21% men, 39% of disabled versus 25% non-disabled and 30% for ethnic minority respondents respectively versus 26% for ethnic majority respondents), undervalued compared to colleagues of equal competence (31% for women versus 23% men, 42% for disabled versus 26% for non-disabled, 33% for ethnic minorities versus 26% for their majority counterparts), bullied or made to feel uncomfortable in the workplace.”

Women and ethnic minorities also report being under-represented in senior positions. Women are more likely to be in marketing/PR and account management. Female respondents are dominant in junior positions (64% W vs 36% M) and male respondents are twice as likely to be in C-Suite positions (21% M vs 11% W). 

The survey shows that 36% of women who took parental leave in the last five years think it has put them at a disadvantage in their career compared with 8% of men/

“Additionally, nearly half of respondents still feel that promotion or hiring decisions can be discriminatory with only 55% agreeing with the statement “Senior management does not discriminate when it comes to hiring or career advancements of those that report into them”. 

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This drops to 52% for women, 51% for ethnic minorities, 49% for LGBQ+ and just 43% for disabled respondents. The 2023 number represents a slight improvement on the 51% scored on the same question in 2021, but Japan is currently the worse scoring market with just 34% agreeing.


Key groups are also less likely to agree that there are people like them in senior positions in their company, highlighting a lack of role models. Women’s scores are three points down on men with 58% agreeing, ethnic minority respondents are 13 points down on ethnic majority at just 48%, LGBQ+ respondents are 13 points down on heterosexual respondents at 47%, while disabled respondents show the biggest gap of all, 16 points down on non-disabled at 46%.

Mental health is also an important concern with 42% respondents saying they feel stressed and anxious at work. This peaks in Italy at 52%, which is also the market with the lowest percentage of respondents agreeing that their company is open about mental health issues (31%). 

The Netherlands (26%) report the lowest percentage of respondents who are stressed or anxious at work. Overall, one in two say their company is open about mental health issues, with the Philippines scoring best at 67%.

Other key findings:

  • LGBQ+ respondents report worse lived experiences at work than their heterosexual counterparts, with an Inclusion Index score of 58% for LGBQ+ vs 65% for heterosexuals.
  • The number of disabled respondents has improved compared to 2021 (10% vs 7%) and is closer to the global benchmark of 15%. Their responses, however, suggest that they are having a tough time with an inclusion index score of 45% compared to 67% for non-disabled respondents.
  • 27% of respondents agree that “my work is having a negative physical impact on health and mental health”. Mental health worries peak at 40% in Poland with 42% in Poland also noting the impact on their physical health. Brazil is the best place for physical health, with only 18% agreeing that work has a negative impact while Finland is the best place for mental health, with just 17% citing it as a concern.

“We should see this as glass half empty – and half full. We are not greatly surprised to see no measurable change across the global industry in just two years, because the challenges are so deep-rooted and systemic in society. They take time to address and overcome. But the first step is building awareness of the problem. We may not have meaningfully moved the needle globally, but industry efforts are increasingly visible. Now is the time to double down and stay the course because ultimately our efforts will be rewarded with more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces where the best talent will flock”, says Stephan Loerke, WFA CEO.

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