How would young people ‘do’ diversity?
Amy Kean explains how, after enlisting students from the University of Lincoln, she asked the industry’s future creatives to tackle the omnipresent threat of apathy towards inclusion at conferences and events.
There are a lot of different ways to ‘do’ diversity, and sometimes the best solutions to inequality are serendipitous and extremely straightforward.
DICE was originally a set of punchy tweets and a small act of defiance. But in just two years it has become a global entity, with a community of 50 volunteers, described as a “trail blazer'' and “industry disruptor”. And, unlike many diversity programmes, it’s worked.
Why did its founders establish DICE? Because we were sick of people pretending they have no other choice than to curate a white, male line-up for their event.
DICE [diversity and inclusion at conferences and events] was set up so that events organisers in every industry know what the benchmark is for inclusive events. It’s an unemotional charter that’s based on law - notably the Protected Characteristics of the 2010 Equality Act - and national statistics. Events organisers submit details of their events (line-up, content, logistics) to DICE via the website and we give them a % score. If the event is inclusive enough, we provide certification and allow them to use the DICE badge in their marketing materials.
Why did its founders (me, Digiday's Seb Joseph, BITE's Nicky Kemp, James Whatley of Digitas, and diversity champion Faisal Ahmed) establish DICE? Because we were sick of people pretending they have no other choice than to curate a white, male line-up for their event. We were done with them pretending they’d “only asked the best people”. Calling it out time and time again was becoming mundane.
No event that has more than 50% men or more than 70% white people on its line-up will ever be certified: this is non-negotiable.
We don’t want DICE to last forever. In fact, it exists to one day be redundant. DICE takes up a lot of our time, and unlike many other diversity initiatives, we’re not making a regular wage out of inequality. But in the last two years we’ve seen the message and process spread (and be welcomed warmly 99% of the time!) Sure, we’ve had a couple of white male detractors, but all positive change does.
So, after two years, we’re ready for our next, exciting phase. We’re getting tougher on events organisers and no event that has more than 50% men or more than 70% white people on its line-up will ever be certified: this is non-negotiable. An essential (and illuminating) piece of government-funded research is underway. In partnership with the University of Surrey, we’ve embarked on a four-month project to reveal the scale of the events inequality issue in every industry, as well as using AI technologies to understand bias in terminology used across marketing materials. We’re also looking to automate the certification process, and thus commence our redundancy.
How can we communicate with events organisers who believe that diversity is a faff, and inclusion a chore? We enlisted the University of Lincoln’s creative students to help us.
The last part of Phase 2 is an ad campaign. We’ve done a lot of work to raise awareness, but how can we get the purpose and tone of DICE out to an even bigger audience, and then get them to act? How can we communicate with events organisers who believe that diversity is a faff, and inclusion a chore? We enlisted the University of Lincoln’s creative students to help us. As part of a longer-term partnership with the institution we set a brief for creative ideas that would get us shared, and get events organisers submitting.
Above: The students behind the four shortlisted concepts [clockwise from top left]: Katherine O’Connor and Alicia Hessey, Jessica White, Patrick Shearer, Leah Hull and Molly Lunn, Eva Budd, Sayd Alkhaliki and Jacon Gill.
Everything DICE has done from the very beginning has been transparent: even our creation of the 10-point charter was consultative and open. We want our marketing to be no different and were keen to see how the industry’s junior creatives would tackle the omnipresent threat of apathy towards inclusion.
If your event isn’t inclusive it is inadequate.
We weren’t disappointed, and I want to share the four shortlisted ideas with you because D&I is everybody’s problem and everybody’s responsibility. It’s also important to share the sheer brilliance of the work coming out of the UK’s best creative universities right now. Which is your favourite?
Your Event is Broken
Any event, initiative or workplace that only listens to and celebrates the voices of white men is essentially silencing every other voice. This was the uncomfortable insight from creative team Katherine O’Connor and Alicia Hessey, who used a frustrating, soundless video to demonstrate the point. As a muted woman talks to camera, the statement “your sound isn’t broken, your panel is” follows.
“What inspired our idea was the fact that the DICE team say they don’t want it to exist, but it needs to,” they said. “Your event being diverse shouldn’t be a choice. Not just about who’s on your panel but the content of the event too. If your event isn’t inclusive it is inadequate. It’s broken.”
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Over the years, diverse, iconic figures have fought for the mic to address the world with powerful words that changed people’s lives, and they continue to do so. But what if these icons had never had a chance to speak? Jacob Gill, Eva Bud and Sayd Alkhaliki asked us to picture that unthinkable future.
We stripped the speakers of their voice, removed their power, and simply asked the audience to imagine a world where these speeches never existed.
They said: “We thought of all the events that marked history and ushered great change with them, and the speeches that shook the world and changed it for the better. Most of these speeches were given by people from a minority in their countries.
"We tried to imagine Martin Luther King attending a speech, unknown and unseen in the crowd, listening, and silenced by the establishment. But that wasn’t enough," said the trio. "So, we reversed the process and made these famous people give their timeless speeches to a non-existent crowd. We stripped the speakers of their voice, removed their power, and simply asked the audience to imagine a world where these speeches never existed.”
One of the biggest problems we have with DICE is natural blind spots that exist as a result of bias: where and how people were raised and what privilege they are accustomed to. In fact, it blows our mind when we see a manel being advertised to promote a big event. The imagery alone must have been through an events team, a PR team and a marketing team for sign-off, and likely a few leaders, too. Do none of them notice something is missing?
Having a panel without diversity is like having a billboard with missing pieces. You don’t get the full picture.
For those of us who do notice, the frustration is real. Leah Hull and Molly Lunn used the simple and universal device of an unfinished puzzle to try and show the blind spotters what the issue is. “An unfinished puzzle is something that annoys everybody," they explain. "And then we developed it further to an unfinished billboard, as having a panel without diversity is like having a billboard with missing pieces. You don’t get the full picture.”
Same is Too Safe
We all know the drill: the same four white men do the rounds at every event because organisers assume that those names will attract the attention they need to sell tickets. Apparently almost 200,000 people work in the UK ad industry, so why do we have only a handful of them talking about best practice on stage? Make it make sense! Jessica White and Patrick Shearer chose to combat tokenism and sameism (is that a word? It should be) with their inspired campaign.
Minorities are often only included within events as tokens, to give the illusion of being inclusive.
“When thinking about the experience of minorities within the creative industry, a key issue we felt was common was that of tokenism, particularly for women and ethnic minorities," they say. "Minorities are often only included within events as tokens, to give the illusion of being inclusive, and with a majority white male demographic in the corporate world, this can be boring and lack excitement. To illustrate this, we made the comparison of playing well-known games such as dominoes or cards, but with all the pieces being the same, and how, if we were all the same, it would be boring.”
The winner of these four shortlisted concepts will be paid by DICE to evolve their idea, which will provide the foundations for an upcoming ad campaign we plan to release out into the wild very soon. Get ready for DICE Phase 2. And I look forward to us no longer existing.