MediaCom: diverse recruiting is the key to boosting social mobility

Avelon Thompson at media agency MediaCom reveals how an apprenticeship scheme is bolstering its work to improve diversity

Companies wanting to recruit people from diverse backgrounds could take a leaf out of MediaCom’s book. Over the past ten years, the agency has been offering apprenticeships to attract talented school leavers, with the focus on social mobility and inclusivity.

MediaCom was the first in the industry to run an apprenticeship scheme and one which included a media qualification. It proved to be so successful that it has been expanded and evolved into the Future Talent scheme.

In addition to school leaver’s, aged from 17, the scheme is open to all, including those who have left college or university and people wanting a career change or returning from an extended time away from work. Avelon Thompson, Future Talent and D&I Manager, explains: “We’ve removed the education criteria from the scheme’s recruitment process to indicate that you don’t have to be a graduate or rely on the grades you have achieved to apply.

Cohorts of 12-15 people join The Future Talent Scheme every quarter. It’s an 18-month programme which enables them to experience different parts of the business. The media qualification has also evolved into a digital marketing qualification.

“That is because as an agency, we want to become known for our digital expertise and for our staff to be known as digitally minded with a broad spectrum of traditional and digital knowledge,” says Thompson.

CVs need not apply

Applicants for the Future Talent scheme don’t need to worry about submitting the perfect CV. That’s because MediaCom doesn’t look at CVs or consider educational criteria when selecting candidates.

“You can’t tell what a person is about by their CV because most often it’s probably been written or guided by their parents,” Thompson argues. “They may have gotten their work experience through someone they know.

“Through Future Talent, we aim to focus on social mobility and inclusion and make sure that we are open to all.  So instead of CVs, we ask candidates to tell us a time when they’ve been brave or something they are passionate about. Their story then gives us a little insight into the personality of that person so we can better match them to the multitude of roles we have at MediaCom.”

Demonstrating passion 

An assessment day is held for each cohort where candidates take part in various team and individual tasks,  including speaking for a couple of minutes on what they are most passionate about.

“We are looking for analytical people, critical and strategic thinkers, but also more importantly that they’re passionate and demonstrate a drive to want to work in the industry,” Thompson explains. 

“I start the assessment day with a speech about what MediaCom does and that what we want to see from candidates is for them to be themselves. If we understand a bit about their personality and the experiences they have had, we can help place them within the business.

“I also explain that they will rotate through various functions within the business, so we want to see their interest in media, research capabilities, that they can adapt, be flexible and deal with or present to clients in front of the team.”

Social mobility and removing bias

MediaCom would normally run insight days twice a year to make sure they have a constant pool of talent interested in the scheme. Still, like most organisations, this year MediaCom has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Says Thompson “We’re had to do things slightly differently this year, but we have pushed ahead  with a virtual assessment day and continued to work with charity partners such as Drive Forward and the Talent Foundry, and have brought on board  nine execs in recent weeks.”  

The agency’s commitment to D&I includes removing bias from the recruitment process. Through a platform called Applied. Applicants are asked questions such as what diversity means to them and how have they pushed themselves out of their comfort zone.  Applied removes all the bias, and the agency’s assessors mark the answers.  

“Applied is key in enabling us to offer a fair and inclusive recruitment process,” Thompson states. “Also, all our assessors, as well as all staff at MediaCom, have had mandatory microaggression and allyship training and what we call unconscious inclusion training. And, we ensure we have a diverse panel of assessors on the day so that we can call out any bias we see.

“As I mentioned earlier, we’ve removed CV and education criteria because we don’t want to recruit the same type of person over and over again.” 

There is no doubt that Future Talent has attracted a diverse talent pool that has also brought diversity and diversity of thought to the business. This commitment to diversity has provided an attractive shop window for recruiting.

Mentoring and sponsorship

MediaCom has also adapted and improved on its mentoring schemes to encourage diverse talent to remain with the company and develop through the organisation. This year it worked with Creative Equals to implement a multicultural leadership programme called Cultural Accelerate. Thirty of MediaCom’s Black and Asian employees were able to participate in the programme which acknowledged and addressed the additional barriers and challenges faced by people of colour in the industry. MediaCom plans to extend this to more people in 2021.

The company has also launched a sponsorship programme pairing Black and Asian Talent from across MediaCom with its Exco and MPs. The leaders are given 12 – 18 months to help their sponsee up to the next step in their career.

Because MediaCom is a broad agency, internal mobility is encouraged, helped by a supportive and fair promotion process. Thompson herself benefited from this. She was PA to the COO for many years but, on returning from maternity leave four years ago, wanted to change direction, which is how she reached her current position.

Feedback from the agency’s Belonging Survey led them to understand that there was a need to improve upon their promotion process.  They have implemented a more transparent process, meaning all vacancies are advertised internally ensuring anyone with relevant skills can apply. They also use the blind hiring software Applied and have created a culture of giving feedback. 

“We aim to create a feedback culture that allows a manager to say ‘while you might not be ready for this move now, but with this training, in a few months, you will be’.”   

From now on, the aim will be to focus on digital training to support the agency’s stance as a digital company, with the Future Talent scheme key in supporting that goal. 

Thompson adds: “We talk a lot about not just diversity, but diversity of thought in MediaCom, the left and right side of the brain. So, you can be client-facing, but also have the knowledge and capability to understand how digital fits into your role and be able to talk about digital confidently to a client. It will be great to develop those kinds of people. They’re already there; we just need to broaden where they go in the business to give them that opportunity.”
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