First-ever DEI Census reveals major challenges around family status, age, gender, ethnicity and disability for APAC markets

Results from the first-ever Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Census led by WFA have identified key challenges for a number of APAC countries around family status, age and gender as well as ethnicity and disability.

It also found some small gaps in people’s lived experiences compared to the global industry average, both in individual markets and regionally. For example, on Kantar’s Inclusion Index, which is generated by asking questions about people’s sense of belonging, the absence of discrimination and presence of negative behaviour, men scored at 69% compared to women at 61% globally. The figures for the seven APAC countries taking part were 67% and 59% respectively indicating marginally poorer lived experiences.

The results are based on more than 10,000 responses from 27 markets around the world conducted in June to July 2021 with the online survey identifying not just the demographics of participants but also their sense of belonging, experience of discrimination and demeaning behaviour. More than 3300 respondents took part in APAC covering Hong Kong SAR (China), India, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Singapore.

The most common forms of discrimination identified by the survey globally were family status and age, with 27% agreeing that their company does not treat all employees fairly regardless of family status and 27% agreeing that their company does not treat all employees equally regardless of age. The findings for APAC are slightly more positive than the global results at 23% and 24% respectively.

Globally 36% of respondents agreed that age can hinder one’s career while 40% of women agreed that family status can hinder one’s career and, again, the APAC experience is marginally better at 35% and 37% respectively.

This final statistic reflects a key finding from the Census – that women’s experiences are notably poorer than men’s both globally and across APAC and eight per cent of women respondents in APAC markets surveyed said they had been personally discriminated against due to their gender. There is also strong evidence of a gender pay gap across all markets in APAC.

There were similar findings for ethnic minorities, who score lower on key questions such as “feel like I belong at my company” than ethnic majority groups in nearly all markets. Nine per cent of ethnic minority respondents in APAC markets say they have been personally discriminated against at their company but this figure varies significantly by market.

And when it comes to ethnicity in APAC, the picture is complex given demographic differences are huge from country to country, and ethnic minorities (including expat foreign nationals), can be paid more than the ethnic majority and often take senior management positions. Equally, there is the example of Malaysia where the ethnic majority report more discrimination than minorities.

In an industry struggling to find the right talent, the findings highlight a lack of diversity and inclusion is a serious concern with 23% of those in APAC markets saying they were likely to leave their current company of as a result of the lack of inclusion and/or discrimination they had experienced. Twenty-two per cent said they would leave the industry. New Zealand was the best performing country in the region on this issue, with 14% saying they would find new employment within the industry.

The research effort was led by WFA in close collaboration with agencies associations, EACA and Voxcomm, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week, Effies, GWI, Campaign, IAA and research firm, Kantar.

“The situation in APAC reflects the broader global challenges that we all face. There is a range of results and that reflects the fact that all markets are very different. What the industry needs to do now is to translate these insights into local action plans which are specially designed to address their local market challenges. Asia-Pacific is incredibly diverse and only the local markets can provide the cultural nuances and content needed to connect with local employers and employees to deliver truly impactful change,” said Stephan Loerke, WFA CEO.

Despite the serious concerns highlighted, globally the marketing sector still outperformed every other category that has been analysed by research partner Kantar, scoring an overall 64% on the Inclusion Index, ahead of the next highest sectors, Health and Pharmaceuticals and Education, both scoring at 60%.

Nevertheless, Hong Kong and India were the only countries in APAC to score higher than the global average on the overall Inclusion Index, ranking 66% and 68% respectively. Pulling India and Pakistan (63%) out of the calculation dropped the region’s average from 64% to 59% suggesting lived experiences in other markets surveyed to be considerably poorer than the global average.

The lower scores can be attributed to a marginally higher reporting of negative behaviours in countries in the region compared to the global average, particularly reported by female respondents. For instance, 32% APAC respondents reported feeling undervalued to compared to colleagues of equal competence versus 29% global average. Seventy-one per cent of APAC respondents say they feel comfortable being themselves in their work compared to 74% global average. But take out India and Pakistan this figure drops to 66%.

Other key findings include:

  • The lived experiences of people with disabilities are poorer in some but not all markets. Globally, 8% of disabled respondents say they have faced discrimination based on disability – the figure is 4% in APAC – and they also tend to score lower against “feel like I belong at my company” than non-disabled respondents. No disabled respondents reported experiencing discrimination on the grounds of disability in Malaysia or Pakistan.
  • Mental health issues are still taboo for many. Around 6% of respondents in APAC reported a long-term health condition and, of these, of which 70% said they related to mental health. However just 44% of them had made their employers aware of the issue. The good news is that among those who did, 52% agreed their employer was “generally supportive”. The best performing countries on this metric in APAC was Singapore, where 67% agreed.
  • Thirty-two per cent of APAC respondents reported suffering from anxiety and stress during the COVID 19 lockdown which tallies closely with the global average of 33%.
  • Sense of belonging varies widely. The global average for “company sense of belonging” is 68% but this hides a wide range of performance, with Sweden top scoring globally on 76%. The best performing country in APAC was Pakistan at 73% with the bottom market scoring 53%.
  • Most reported that their organisations are taking active steps to address diversity and inclusion but this sentiment varies greatly from country to country and this figure is lower in APAC than in the rest of the world. Sixty per cent of global respondents feel their company is working hard to become more diverse and inclusive while 53% of APAC respondents agreed. The US topped the global chart at 83%, with New Zealand at 63% and India and Singapore at 58% scoring best in APAC.
  • There are huge variations generally between markets. One of the starkest learnings from the survey is the extent to which some countries in all regions reported figures significantly below the global averages when it comes to the absence of discrimination and presence of negative behaviours. Inclusion index scores across APAC, for example, vary from India’s 68% to the worst-performing country’s 56%. This is particularly noticeable when it comes to reviewing the responses from women in these same markets. These differences also corroborate systemic issues in some countries where there have been longstanding societal problems around gender, race and/or ethnicity.

The Census was designed on the basis of the UK All In Census conducted by the UK Advertising Association, ISBA and IPA in March 2021 (whose results are not yet part of the global survey) and was actively supported by companies, including Beiersdorf, BP, Diageo, GSK, Heineken, Havas, Just Eat, m/Six, Omnicom Group, Reckitt and WPP.

The full findings have been shared with each participating market and a full global report is due to be published on December 9th. The results will also feed into the work of the WFA Diversity and Inclusion Task Force as well as national action plans led by WFA national associations around the world.  

Those national advertiser associations and their agency association counterparts were the key drivers of the market research in the following markets: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France, Greece, the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE), Hong Kong SAR, China, India, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the USA.

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