Diverse senior leadership key to engagement and retention

Jun 21, 2022

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives provide clear benefits, but marketing profession still lacks representation at the senior leadership level

New research released today by the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) shows that marketing organizations and departments with well-diversified senior leadership teams, are less likely to see their employees join the mass exodus known as the Great Resignation.

From Engagement to Retention: DEI’s Impact on the Marketing Profession finds that 51 per cent of employees at companies with well-diversified leadership report preventable staff loss during the pandemic, compared to 75 per cent at organizations where leadership is not at all diverse. Furthermore, nearly one-quarter (24 per cent) 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 negligible one per cent 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. “This can take many forms, including appointing a senior DEI lead, requiring diverse hiring slates for executive roles and ensuring that decision-making processes include diverse voices and perspectives.” 

The imperative to have well-diversified leadership is evident throughout the report. For example, well-diversified leadership leads to significantly higher employee engagement. Twelve per cent of employees in organizations with well-diversified leadership report feeling less engaged due to systems of discrimination, but this figure rises to more than half (52 per cent) in companies with leadership that is not at all diverse. 

Perhaps most importantly, leaders and staff in organizations with diverse senior leadership exhibit higher standards of behaviour. For example, individuals are less likely to have experienced a micro-aggression if they work at a company with a well-diversified senior team, with just 25 per cent reporting this compared to nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of marketers in companies with leadership that is not at all diverse. 

Similarly, in organizations with diverse leadership, 100 per cent of marketers believe that their organization will take appropriate action in the event of a discriminatory incident – a figure that drops to less than half (49 per cent) when leadership is not diverse. 

Despite the critical importance of diverse leadership, the research shows that it remains an elusive goal for most organizations, as just 22 per cent of respondents indicated that their company has a well-diversified senior team. And, while a significant majority (81 per cent) of marketers agree that support from senior leadership is the most effective step in implementing a DEI strategy, just over half of respondents (52 per cent) indicate that there is a senior-level person dedicated to DEI in their organization.

The 2022 survey reinforces last year’s findings that improving DEI is important for employees and for business growth. 

“We see from the research that a diverse and inclusive work environment has many benefits, including more innovation and creativity, a better understanding of customers and clients, and stronger employee morale,” says Patrick Bhang, co-chair of the CMA’s DEI committee, and director, new branch format & digital merchandising at RBC. “As leaders in the Canadian marketing industry, the CMA’s DEI committee is committed to enhancing our collective understanding of DEI and providing marketers with insights and tools to achieve a more diverse, inclusive and equitable future for the profession.”

Other highlights from the study include:

  • Perceptions of DEI are not universal: Nearly all (94 per cent) non-marginalized men believe their organization will take appropriate action in the event of a discriminatory incident, compared to 80 per cent of marginalized women. A strong majority of non-marginalized men (78 per cent) are far more likely than marginalized women (33 per cent) to believe that people from BIPOC communities rise to senior positions at the same rate as individuals who are not from these communities.  
  • Women continue to face gender bias and ageism: More than half (52 per cent) of non-marginalized women believe that once you reach a certain age, you have no chance of getting hired or promoted. Women are also less likely than men (13 per cent versus 25 per cent) to believe that they would be praised if they challenged someone in leadership who made a racial, ethnic or gender-based joke.
  • Expectations of agencies have shifted due to talent shortages: While a majority (59 per cent) of client-side marketers say that their agency team needs to reflect Canadian diversity, this is a significant drop from 2021, when 71 per cent agreed with this statement. This may be a by-product of significant staff shortages that have forced lower expectations for an interim period as companies navigate through turnover caused by the Great Resignation.

The research was conducted by independent research firm RKI. Approximately 500 marketing professionals across Canada participated in the survey. The research is part of the CMA’s broader commitment to take steps to combat racism and discrimination in the marketing profession and was developed in collaboration with the CMA’s DEI Committee.

About the Canadian Marketing Association

The CMA’s purpose is to embolden Canadian marketers to make a powerful impact on business in Canada. We provide opportunities for our members from coast to coast to develop professionally, to contribute to marketing thought leadership, to build strong networks, and to strengthen the regulatory climate for business success. Our Chartered Marketer (CM) designation signifies that recipients are highly qualified and up to date with best practices, as reflected in the Canadian Marketing Code of Ethics and Standards. We represent virtually all of Canada's major business sectors, and all marketing disciplines, channels and technologies. Our Consumer Centre helps Canadians better understand their rights and obligations. For more information, visit thecma.ca.

About RKI

RKI: Research+Knowledge=Insight is a full-service market research firm located in Toronto. Led by an innovative team of award-winning professionals, RKI focuses on content and media research, recently developing a number of high-profile reports in the areas of workplace diversity, equity and inclusion. Their area of expertise spans the complete gamut, from standard market research’s qualitative and quantitative components to projects designed to promote thought leadership and editorial/advertorial content placement. RKI’s practice is tailored to a range of audiences, from elite C-suite executives, to small, medium, and large business leaders, and to employees and consumers across a range of industry verticals. The RKI team provides insight and inspiration to realize changes specific to particular industries in an evolving global scene. For more information, visit www.rkinsight.com.

Nathaniel Glassman
Kaiser and Partners




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