Polarizing topics are impacting how people behave at work: Canadian Marketing Association

Jun 18, 2024

Workplace polarization is leading marketers to self-censor more and socialize less

Toronto, ON – June 18, 2024 – New research released today by the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) found that having conversations on polarizing topics is affecting marketers’ experience at work, leading to self-censorship and reduced social interactions. This issue is particularly pronounced among women and in companies lacking diverse leadership.

The Rise of Polarization

The CMA’s new report, DEI in the Canadian Marketing Sector: Polarization, Ageism and Mounting Frustration, revealed that polarization significantly impacts marketers' work experiences, making them less likely to talk about anything controversial while at work. This leads to reduced socializing and increased anxiety about interactions, especially among women and in workplaces lacking diversified senior leadership. Conversations about polarizing topics are common, with 49 per cent of marketers participating in or witnessing these discussions. When these conversations occur, employees have seen their colleagues show visible signs of being upset (30 per cent). Employees in companies with well-diversified leadership are less likely to have witnessed negative reactions to polarizing discussions, but it is still significant at 37 per cent.

“Polarization is a concerning trend that undermines open communication and collaboration in the workplace,” said Barry Alexander, Chief Marketing and Diversity Officer, CMA. “It is crucial to address this issue by fostering inclusive environments where diverse perspectives are valued, and respectful dialogue is encouraged. By doing so, we can reduce the negative impacts of polarization and build more cohesive and collaborative teams.”

Ageism and Intersectionality in the Profession

Ageism continues to significantly impact the marketing profession, with 38 per cent of marketers observing that layoffs are more likely to affect certain groups, such as women over the age of 55 (26 per cent for organizations with leadership teams that are not diversified). Additionally, nearly half (47 per cent) of marginalized women experience microaggressions at work and 54 per cent feel they must work harder to be treated equally, compared to lower percentages among other groups.

The research found virtually all respondents (99 per cent) see value in working with older employees due to their experience (96 per cent), high skill level (75 per cent) and ability to lead or mentor (67 per cent).

Organizations that lack diversity among senior leaders are less likely to recognize this value of older workers (47 per cent). Having a diversified leadership team can also mitigate the impact of microaggressions, improving retention and engagement as 33 per cent of those with a well-diversified leadership team experienced a microaggression compared to 60 per cent with non-diversified leadership.

Importance of Diverse Job Search Options

Diverse teams offer significant benefits, with 93 per cent of respondents agreeing that diverse perspectives lead to better ideas and solutions, and 100 per cent recognizing the value of working with colleagues from different cultural backgrounds. However, the report also notes a decline in the use of some diverse job search options such as recruiting through diverse channels (34 per cent in 2024 vs. 39 per cent in 2022) and seeking diverse referrals (18 per cent in 2024 vs. 24 per cent in 2022).

"The findings of this year's DEI report underscore the value of diverse leadership teams, while identifying room for growth in the ongoing effort to meet our goals of an inclusive profession," said Alexander. "Focusing on creating an environment where each employee feels welcomed and genuinely respected for their opinions and contributions will not only fortify the internal team but support the organization as a whole.”

Marketing organizations have made progress in highlighting diversity in job descriptions (48 per cent in 2024 vs. 43 per cent in 2022) and ensuring inclusive hiring processes. By continuing to refine and enhance these practices, employers can foster a workforce that is more innovative and engaged, ultimately driving better business outcomes and maintaining a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Moving the Needle with an Effective DEI Strategy

In workplaces with a well-diversified leadership team, nearly all employees (95 per cent) say that their organization is taking action to create an environment that is diverse, inclusive and equitable – nearly double the number (49 per cent) who are doing so in organizations whose leadership is not diverse. This inclusive atmosphere not only enhances innovation and creativity (68 per cent) but also improves understanding of clients and customers (66 per cent) and boosts employee morale and loyalty (66 per cent). For DEI initiatives to succeed, strong support from senior leadership is crucial, along with hiring from diverse communities and providing formal training in diversity and inclusivity/unconscious bias for all employees including senior management.

To build a more diverse workplace, respondents indicated that their companies employ the following DEI hiring tactics:

  • Highlighting diversity in job descriptions (48 per cent)
  • Highlighting diversity on the career site (44 per cent)
  • Advertising through diverse channels and job boards (34 per cent)
  • Having a diverse hiring/interview panel (32 per cent)
  • Offering targeted internships and scholarships to diverse populations (27 per cent)
  • Ensuring diverse talent slates (21 per cent)
  • Asking for diverse referrals (18 per cent)

Improved DEI practices not only contribute to higher employee satisfaction and retention, but also play a role in attracting top talent from diverse backgrounds, leading to a richer pool of ideas and perspectives that fuel creativity and problem-solving. As organizations become more inclusive, they are better equipped to understand and serve a diverse customer base, enhancing their reputation and achieving sustainable growth.

About the Study

The research was conducted by independent research firm RKI. The survey was in the field between February 21 and March 27, 2024. Surveys were distributed through the CMA and its partners: strategy, Ad Standards, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Association of Canadian Advertisers, Association of Creative Communication Agencies, Black Talent Initiative, Confédération des organismes de personnes handicapées du Québec, Digital Advertising Alliance of Canada, Digital Marketing Sector Council, Grenier, Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada, Marketing News Canada, People of Colour in Advertising & Marketing, and Sponsorship Marketing Council Canada. A total of 486 individuals from across Canada participated in the research.

About the Canadian Marketing Association 

The CMA is the voice of marketing in Canada and our purpose is to champion marketing’s powerful impact. We are the catalyst to help Canada’s marketers thrive today, while building the marketing mindset and environment of tomorrow. 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 Research + Knowledge = Insights

RKI: Research + Knowledge = Insights 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 areas of expertise span 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 rkinsight.com. 

Nathaniel Glassman
Kaiser & Partners




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