How London’s digital agencies are tackling diversity

D&IJuly 31st, 2018

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Privilege is not a condition for potential: How London’s digital agencies are tackling diversity

By: Kate Rand, Director of People at Beyond. 

Getting your foot in the door can be more about your network than your knowledge. A lot of our industry movers and shakers have more than just business in common. They share neighbourhoods, congregate at the same school gates, attend the same dinner parties. There is a higher concentration of privately educated school leavers in the sector. When their children are looking for their next role, they’re not short of opportunities—and unpaid internships at high profile agencies aren’t too much of a strain on the family purse strings.

But for those without access to private schools, higher education, or the resources to take on unpaid work, breaking into the industry is all the more challenging, particularly at entry level. So what are the agencies in this sector doing about this?

They’re definitely talking about it. Everybody has an opinion, a blog series, a spot at a conference to talk about it—but a recent study by LinkedIn shows that, despite all this, tech’s diversity divide is as wide as ever. It’s all talk and no action. Charlie Lyons, the Managing Director of our London studio, wanted to go beyond the noise. In an industry populated by people from similar backgrounds, with similar experiences and ideas, Charlie wanted to shake up the echo chamber with some fresh, new talent. The kind that might not normally turn up on an agency’s doorstep.

He has been working on Flipside, a training programme connecting young people from the four boroughs of East London with some of the city’s top digital agencies.

On the Flipside: Opening our doors to diverse talent

Flipside is the brainchild of six agencies in London. Beyond got together with Made by ManySennepUstwoSiberia and Reading Room to take on the industry’s socioeconomic diversity problem, in partnership with A New Direction and the London Legacy Development Centre.

The programme started in February this year and finished its first iteration in April. With workshops, 1-2-1 training and guidance around product design, the programme was designed to teach 12 young East Londoners the hard skills, while supporting softer skills to build their confidence and understanding of the agency world.

Over the twelve weeks, Flipside offered contribution towards living costs, equipment and a place to work at Plexal—alongside regular days working in the studios. Each Flipsider had a mentor from the studios, helping them navigate the agency environment.

At the end, the Flipsiders were given the chance to showcase their skills to the agency leaders and their networks, with the goal of securing jobs. We were delighted to take on two Flipsiders. Joel joined us as a Videographer, Jahkeeta, a Designer.

Both were over the moon with their job offers. Jahkeeta remembered thinking, “‘This is finally it, a job where I’m encouraged to learn and become the best, to do what I love—a job that I would look forward to getting up in the morning for!’ When I was first offered the position, I felt like I was finally appreciated and recognised for the talent that I knew I truly had within myself.”

During Flipside, Joel and Jahkeeta showed real potential through their work, attitude and development. The studio has collectively been overjoyed with their progress, with Jahkeeta hitting the ground running, taking on client work from the outset. Just last week, she delivered a presentation to Google, while Joel has independently produced a video of the Flipside experience which will be released soon.

From a foot in the door to feet under the table

It’s easy to take for granted the benefits of a progressive studio. Joel talks of his surprise at seeing Nick Rappolt, the CEO sitting “casually” among the team, and how that solidified his belief that Beyond was a great place to work. During the programme, the Flipsiders were so excited by the constant supply of free snacks that we had to double our food orders. Joel also talks about how laid back the studio seemed and how, despite being focused on delivering great work, everyone took the time out to check in with the Flipsiders.

Seeing the support that the studio offered out throughout Flipside has been a very proud moment for Charlie and this level of support has only increased for Joel and Jahkeeta now they are permanent fixtures in the studio. Jahkeeta says, “everyone is so willing to check in, offer support and encourage me to be my best self.”

Challenging the status quo comes with its challenges

For even the most experienced new joiner, it takes a good six months to really understand the organisation and 12 months to start making inroads. So, for Joel and Jahkeeta it was a steep learning curve—especially as Beyond has only recently started taking on entry level hires, meaning our onboarding is still in “beta”.

Jahkeeta says one of her challenges has been managing her own expectations, learning the old adage “perfect is the enemy of done”. However Jahkeeta says that her biggest challenge has been coming to terms with her new position within Beyond. She says, “I’ve never had a job where I’ve been so empowered and encouraged to learn as an employee. I’ve been physically exhausted taking in so much learning and I’m hungry for more!”

Eat, sleep, learn, repeat: Continuous development is the key

Since being at Beyond, Jahkeeta says her appreciation of learning and feedback has grown. “This is the way we stay adaptable as individuals and can all grow together”. At Beyond, we attribute our success to our people. That’s why we’re dedicated to their development, investing in bespoke training programmes to help them grow. Here are our three biggest learnings:

  • Take the lead, continuously: In an industry as fast paced as ours, driving your own development and growing your skillset it is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity.
  • Everyone makes mistakes: Joel described feeling disappointed in the outcome of his first project. “I felt that I didn’t make it to the best of my ability, but everyone understood that it was a mistake and could be learned from”. Agile environments are safe spaces to learn from mistakes. Fail fast, fail cheap.
  • You’re one piece of the puzzle: Every role matters in an agency, because the things we create are the sum of the whole product lifecycle. In the end, we can only be successful through collaboration across the full team.