Diverse leaders are a bulwark against staff exodus

Despite helping prevent turnover, the latest from the CMA finds there hasn't been meaningful changes in senior diversity.

According to the latest Canadian Marketing Association research, diverse senior leadership makes marketers less likely to join the Great Resignation exodus, but that hasn’t motivated the kind of change one would hope for.

The research was conducted on behalf of the CMA by independent research firm RKI on just under 500 marketing professionals across Canada, 39% of whom came from a client marketing organization, 38% of whom came from an agency and 23% of whom came from another area of marketing or advertising services.

The stats reveal that 51% of employees at companies who described their leadership as “well-diversified” report preventable staff loss during the pandemic, compared to 75% at organizations where leadership is not very diverse.

What’s more, 24% of employees with senior teams that are not diverse say that their organizations are making no efforts whatsoever to retain racialized staff, compared to a mere 1% of respondents from organizations with well-diversified senior leadership.

“Our research clearly demonstrates that impactful and meaningful DEI initiatives begin with intentionally making room for diversity at the leadership table,” said Sartaj Sarkaria, acting chief operating officer and chief diversity officer, CMA.

Despite this, only 22% of respondents described their leadership as “well-diversified,” which is roughly 1% lower than in the CMA’s last DEI survey.

What’s more, and perhaps paradoxically, the same staff shortages a diversified organization seems to prevent have made DEI efforts less of a priority: 59% of client-side marketers say that their agency team needs to reflect Canadian diversity, representing a significant drop from 2021, when 71% agreed with this statement. This, the CMA says, is a by-product of significant staff shortages that have forced lower expectations as companies navigate turnover.

According to the data, having well-diversified leadership leads to significantly higher employee engagement as well: 12% of employees in diverse leadership organizations report feeling less engaged due to systems of discrimination, but this figure rises to 52% in companies with leadership that is not diverse.

Similarly, in organizations with diverse leadership, 100% of respondents believe their organization will take appropriate action in the event of a discriminatory incident – a figure that drops to 49% when leadership is not diverse.

Other highlights from the study include perceptions of diversity equity and inclusion differing between non-marginalized men and women, with 94% of the former, and 80% of the latter, believing their organizations would take strong and appropriate action in the event of an act of discrimination.

Lastly, women are far more pessimistic about hires and promotions as they age, and considerably less likely than men to believe that they would be praised if they challenged someone in leadership who made a racial, ethnic or gender-based joke.