Create Space Census - Key findings on the state of the Australian advertising industry

By AdNews | 21 May 2024

Advertising Council Australia (ACA) today published the findings from the second Create Space Census, a program to measure and improve diversity and inclusion across Australia’s advertising industry.

The census ran in November 2023, two years after the first. Almost 2,500 people responded to the anonymous survey which used Kantar’s Inclusion Index to benchmark performance.

The biennial Create Space Census again provides deep insights into DE&I in Australian advertising:

Where Australia’s advertising industry is doing well

  • The number of females in C-suite/exec management roles has increased 8 percentage points to 54% in 2023 from 46% in 2021
  • 70% believe their company has actively taken steps to be more diverse and inclusive
  • 35% say they have noticed significant changes that have positively impacted diversity and inclusion in their company over the last two years
  • Overall awareness of companies’ DE&I strategies and policies has also increased by 6pts to 59%
  • Sexual harassment in the last 12 months has dropped from 6% to 5% overall, and from 8% to 6% for females, yet remains a high-priority issue for the industry
  • There has been a 6pt increase in voluntary sharing of health challenges with employers
  • 61% of LGBTQ+ people are "out" at work, up 5pts from 2021
  • There has been a 4pt reduction in observed casual discrimination
  • The likelihood of leaving the industry due to exclusion and discrimination has marginally declined to 19% from 20%, which is higher for underrepresented groups and females who have taken parental leave in the past five years

Not so well

The industry’s overall Inclusion Index Score dropped to 56 in 2023 from a relatively strong score of 62 in 2021 and now aligns with the Australian national norm (55) and the global average (54).

The reduced Inclusion Index Score is driven by a lower sense of belonging reported by 2023 census respondents and a slight increase in negative behaviour observed across the industry. The score aligns with a fall in Inclusion Index Scores globally, observed by Kantar in eight out of twelve international markets.

  • Groups that reported the largest drops in inclusion in 2023’s Create Space Census
  • People aged 16-24 - their Inclusion Index Score dropped the most - 13pts since 2021 to 60%, however they still have one of the highest scores
  • People who are Asian: Inclusion Index Score dropped 11pts to 49%
  • LGBTQ+: Inclusion Index Score dropped 10pts to 46%
  • People with a physical disability: Inclusion Index Score dropped 9pts to 44%
  • People who identify as female: Inclusion Index Score dropped 7pts to 52%


Create Space data reflects recent shifts in leadership across the industry. For the first time, females now dominate all five census levels: C-suite/executive management, senior staff, middle management, junior management, and intern/apprentice/trainee/junior executive.

The C-suite (excluding MDs, Heads Of Dept, ECDs) is still male-dominated at 56%, but the industry’s C-suite makeup still meets corporate standards of gender-balanced leadership weighted at 40:40:20 (40% women, 40% men, 20% people of any gender).

Creative department leadership roles are less balanced, but female and gender non-conforming representation has improved markedly in the last two years.

  • Females in c-suite/exec management roles has increased by 6pts to 54% in 2023 
  • Female creatives/designers in C-suite/exec management positions has jumped by 9pts to 30%
  • Despite progress in gender representation, females continue to out-number males in their
    likelihood to leave their company and the industry due to a lack of inclusion or discrimination:
    ● 20% of females versus 14% of males are likely to leave their company
    ● 23% of females versus 13% of males are likely to leave the industry
    ● 1 in 4 female middle managers likely to leave the industry - no change since 2021
  • 28% of females who have taken parental leave in the last five years are likely to leave the industry
  • Overall, 16% of respondents have experienced gender-based discrimination. This has increased to 23% among females and 29% among gender non-conforming people versus 6% of males
  • Sexual harassment has dropped (see ‘doing well’ section above). In 83% of instances, the source of the harassment was cited as being internal colleagues, with 4% coming from external clients
  • While sexual harassment figures have decreased, 26% of females say they have been bullied, undermined or harassed in some way at work in the last 12 months, compared to 18% of males - no improvement since 2021.
  • Of the 18% likely to leave their company due to a lack of inclusion or discrimination experienced, 44% said they would prioritise an employer committed to addressing the gender pay gap.
  • In February 2024, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency published the gender pay gaps of employers with more than 100 employees, with the median total remuneration pay gap for our sector measured at 25%.

The industry remains 86% dominated by the ethnic majority (Anglo-Celtic, European, and North American), with more diversity at junior levels. Those in the ethnic minority audience have much lower feelings of inclusion and belonging, and their experience of discrimination has increased, leading them to want to leave the industry. Broadly speaking, the advertising industry’s ethnic population is largely representative of the Australian population, similar to 2021.

  • 1 in 5 who identified as being an ethnic minority do not feel that they belong at their company 26% are likely to leave their company due to a lack of inclusion or due to discrimination, compared to 16% of the ethnic minority
  • 1% of respondents identified as being Asian, one of the largest representations of ethnic minorities in the sample, and are four times more likely to experience discrimination based on their ethnicity.
  • Half of Asian respondents observed casual discrimination and 24% had their names consistently mispronounced or had been given a nickname without asking - double the percentage of the overall response base.
  • ’Double jeopardy’ amplifies exclusion: for females who are also an ethnic minority, almost one-third (31%) are likely to leave the industry due to exclusion or discrimination, compared to 23% of females overall

Physical and mental health

A relatively high representation of people reported having a physical or mental health concern that is ongoing and impacts their ability to manage day-to-day activities, however, more are informing their employers about their condition. Those dealing with health issues reported notably lower levels of inclusion, and experiences of negative or demeaning behaviours are higher compared to people without health issues. Experience in the workplace is significantly worse for people with a physical disability.

  • 26% of respondents identified as having a physical or mental disability that affects their ability to carry out day-to-day activities, up from 17% in 2021
  • 37% claimed their company was aware of their health condition in 2023, vs 34% in 2021
  • The Inclusion Index Score for people with a disability declined 9pts to 44% since 2021, suggesting that post-pandemic ‘back to office’ work is much harder for them
  • Almost one quarter (23%) of those living with a physical disability are likely to leave the industry due to a lack of inclusion or due to discrimination. This is higher than the total industry which sits at 19%.
  • 11% of respondents are neurodivergent, up 5pts since 2021. Only 56% feel emotionally and socially supported at work versus 65% overall.
  • 31% of respondents have a mental health condition, up from 28% in 2021
  •  27% report suffering from ongoing stress – up 4pts – higher among females, LGBTQ+ and under 35 year-olds, and substantially higher among those in PR and social roles

Social mobility

Australia’s ad industry has a significant concentration of people from a privileged and educated background, a trend that has not changed since 2021.

  • 53% of the industry was educated through a private or fee-paying school compared to the Australian national average of 35%, similar to 2021
  • 78% completed further education after leaving school, in line with the Australian working population
  • This points to exclusionary hiring practices, a dwindling appeal of a career in advertising among people from less privileged backgrounds, or a systemic trend in the education sector.

Sexual orientation
The inclusion score for LGBTQ+ is among the lowest at 46% and has dropped dramatically since 2021, double the decline for heterosexual respondents.

  • Positively, 61% of LBGTQ+ respondents feel secure enough to be ‘out’ at work, 5pts up on 2021’s score. Issues remain around a lower sense of belonging for this group, and higher instances of negative behaviour or microaggressions
  • 13% identified as LGBTQ+, 4% fewer than in 2021
  • 61% of LGBTQ+ people are ‘out’ at work, up 5pts from 2021
  • Representation declines from 22% at the entry level to 10% at the executive leadership level
  • 47% of LGBTQ+ respondents believe that there are “people similar to me in leadership positionsacross my company” - down 2pts since 2021
  • 29% are likely to leave their company due to a lack of inclusion or discrimination, compared to 16% of heterosexual people. This has increased by 10pts since 2021.

The industry’s workforce is younger than the profile of employed people in Australia, and this skew is even more pronounced in female staff. While people at either end of the age spectrum are more likely to mention experiences of age-related discrimination at work, it’s those in the middle who report experiencing the most negative behaviour at work.

  • 74% of our sample were aged between 25 and 44, the same as in 2021
  • Only 19% of respondents were aged over 45, compared to 37% of the Australian workforce
  • In 2023, 15% of respondents reportedly experienced age-based discrimination, at similar rates for all genders. This is 2pts higher than in 2021 and increases to 36% for those aged 55+.
  • Only 16% of female-identifying respondents were aged over 45, compared to 40% in the Australian workforce
    24% of respondents identified as men over the age of 45
  • Gender representation differs between age groups with 60% of males in the industry aged over 35 but only 42% of females in that age group, highlighting the gender retention issue
  • While females over 45 dominate senior management and finance roles, there are far fewer in other departments. In the creative department, only 15% of female respondents are aged over 45
  • Younger doesn’t equal happier. Despite making up the majority of our workforce, the 25-44 age group still have the lowest levels of inclusion compared to their younger or older co-workers
  • While the youngest age group (16-24) maintains one of the highest inclusion scores, this has seen the biggest drop since 2021. This needs to be reversed to prevent a retention issue starting at an even younger age.


  • Overall 18% of respondents are likely to leave their company due to a lack of inclusion or discrimination experienced
  • This skewed much higher among Asian talent (31%) and LGBTQ+ people (29%)
  • The top three factors when choosing a new employer were more diverse leadership, flexible working and a fairer approach to pay and promotions
  • As outlined, 1 in 5 or 19% of respondents are likely to leave the industry altogether based on their experience, marginally lower than the 20% recorded in 2021
  • This is higher among freelancers (33%), LGBTQ+ respondents (27%), those working in creative roles (25%), Asian people (30%), females (23%) and females who have recently taken parental leave (28%)

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at

Sign up to the AdNews newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for breaking stories and campaigns throughout the day.

comments powered by Disqus