Create Space

Create Space is an ongoing program to drive progress on inclusion, diversity and belonging. Whether you're a junior creative, a senior producer, an account director or in accounts payable, a senior leader, an aspiring leader, a consultant or a client - everyone is invited to Create Space.

Create Space 2021 Report

On May 21, Advertising Council Australia held a national webinar to release the findings of the 2023 Create Space Census. Download the report (a PDF will be sent to your email) and watch the launch webinar recording below.



As an industry, we’ve made some real progress regarding diversity, equity and inclusion. And there is more we need to do. Doing it consistently well across every age group and background is still a challenge for Australia’s advertising industry, as it is for many others. but for our industry, there’s an added impetus to passionately pursue progress.

D&I is fundamental to our historic and future success; advertising was built around a notion of a communal space for all talented thinkers and makers to contribute and craft ideas that drive change. An industry that looks and feels homogenous, and where majority rules, flies in the face of this distinctive proposition, diluting our ability to adapt to culture and commerce. 

This is a people project, not just a policy project. Whether you’re a junior creative, a senior producer, an account director or in accounts payable, a senior leader, an aspiring leader, a consultant or a client – everyone is invited to Create Space.



Explore the action plan and access resources to help you get started.

ACTION 1: improve the experience & retention of female talent

With 1 in 4 female middle managers saying they’re likely to leave the industry due to a lack of diversity and inclusion, it’s vital we address the barriers and invest in the drivers for retention as an urgent business issue. Our focus is to ensure work is a safe space first and foremost. We then want to see a focus on gender-neutral parental leave and return to work policies – these provide all employers with a competitive edge in attracting and retaining talent as well as driving gender equality. We also want to drive widespread awareness of the gender pay gap.

To take action, we’re asking the industry to do three things:



Tackle sexual harassment and victimisation

Download and adopt the Create (Safe) Space Toolkit and seven-step plan.

The toolkit includes self-assessment tools, factsheets on how to tackle sexual harassment from a behavioural point of view, a trauma-informed guide to responding to disclosures, understanding and updating Whistleblower plans and policies, and moving towards more victim-centred NDAs.



Develop a gender-neutral parental leave policy

Use WGEA’s Leading Practice Guide


Reference Blackbird Venture’s Open-source Parental Leave Policy


Poor parental leave or a lack of support returning to the workplace are often prohibiting women — particularly those from marginalised groups — from taking on senior positions. Review your current policies to ensure they’re inclusive. Does your organisation make any contribution to superannuation while individuals are on parental leave? Does your organisation consider workers on parental leave (paid and unpaid) for promotion? Are you offering truly flexible options ie not just WFH or 4 days a week?


And Then

Measure and address your gender pay gap

Use the WGEA Employer Action Guide


Consult this one tailored for small businesses


The first step in addressing the gap is to assess the situation with a pay audit that looks across roles, demographics, responsibilities, education, experience and performance. This helps quantify whether a gender pay gap exists and, if it does, measure how big it is.




The census has again demonstrated that issues of mental well-being and mental health need more explicit attention if we’re to reduce churn rates and increase inclusion scores.

Specifically, we now know how many suffer in silence while they would be better able to flourish in a culture where health conditions are acknowledged. A safe and healthy work environment that prevents burnout ultimately benefits organisations. Employees are more engaged, more productive, and less likely to leave.

To take action, we’re asking the industry to do three things:



Read, sign and share Mentally Healthy Minimum Standards

Signing the minimum standards is your opportunity to show your people and the industry your commitment. There are more resources for individuals and employers on the website too. Leaders should talk openly about the Minimum Standards to destigmatise and encourage transparency.




Download RUOK? Practical Workplace Guide

To increase awareness of the signs of mental stress and improve support for people with mental health conditions, use the workplace guide to train staff and managers in identifying signs of distress, asking RUOK and responding with compassion when someone says no, I’m not.



And then

Become a Mental Health First Aid skilled workplace in 2023

Providing more avenues for support at work is critical. We’re asking the industry to commit to training a percentage of staff in Mental Health First Aid and undertaking actions to encourage open conversations.





Microaggressions are the everyday, subtle, intentional – and oftentimes unintentional – interactions or behaviours that communicate some sort of bias toward marginalised groups.

They may sound mini but the impact is mighty. To recognise and reduce microaggressions, we must first classify them as important.

In many cases, seemingly benign behaviours like interruptions and being called too politically correct – aren’t enough to raise red flags with HR but the effects can compound until employees feel disrespected, undervalued, and discriminated against. The ultimate result is low morale, poor team performance, and diminished company culture. Allowing microaggressions to fester will undercut your company’s DEI strategy.

To take action, we’re asking the industry to do three things:



Educate your team on what constitutes a microaggression

Download, read and share our fieldguide.


The guide contains definitions, examples, links to videos and further resources, as well as suggestions on how to lead action.



Spotlight everyday exclusionary language and unlearn biases

Share and contribute to the Micropedia of Microaggressions.

Micropedia of Microaggressions


And then

Begin to cultivate a culture of allyship and bystander action






The Create Space Census indicated that our industry is not as open and inclusive as it thinks it is in regard to queer talent.

Our workplaces lack queer representation at senior levels (9% of agency leadership) despite over a quarter of junior talent identifying as LGBTQIA+.

This disparity impacts not only the culture of an agency but also the creative work itself. Non-cis and non-straight people are the second most under-represented group in the work we make for brands.

With this action plan, we’ve designed three steps to address best practice inclusion for LGBTQIA+ people working in our industry. Any agency that tackles all three areas will be creating a safe and inclusive workplace for its LGBTQIA+ talent now and into the future.




Make a simple start by reviewing talent policies, using inclusive language, running staff training and respecting some basic do’s and don’ts.

This Forbes article covers the basics to get you started.





Our industry working group has developed a guide to help get you started.


Simple ways to show respect for a person’s identity involve using correct language through pronouns and having an understanding of LGBTQIA+ terms. We have devised a simple workplace resource to educate, inform and provide ways to implement pronouns that can be championed by anyone.


And then


ACON’s Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI) provides a comparative benchmark on LGBTQIA+ workplace inclusion and uses the largest national employee survey on the impact of inclusion initiatives on organisational culture across all industry sectors. Participating organisations achieve Bronze/Silver/Gold employer recognition.






While our workforce is ethnically diverse overall, the ethnic majority is people with European origins.

We also see far fewer people from ethnic minorities in senior roles.

Beyond recruiting, we need to address the issues impacting retention. Ethnic minorities working in our industry are experiencing discrimination and negative behaviour, leading to a much higher likelihood of leaving the industry.

To take action, we’re asking the industry to do three things:




Run another (tiny) survey to uncover cultural and religious practices among your team.
Use our template to build your own mini-survey.



It’s not just about knowing that someone on your team (or how many of them) was born overseas, it’s about knowing what their background, ethnicity or religion means in practice so you can better understand and consider their perspectives.




Include best practices and tools in your induction processes, including the introduction of phonetic tools. LinkedIn supports voice recordings of names to aid in pronunciation which is a great thing to promote among your team.


Using correct names is a crucial part of creating an inclusive workplace culture. 

We can all help by including the importance of names in our DE&I training, together with phonetic spelling/pronunciation guides, and name pronunciation audio tools in our email signatures and in profiles.


And then


Most people of different backgrounds have days they’re celebrating at home that nobody at the office knows about. Be aware of which holidays agency staff are observing and be respectful or share in the celebrations appropriately.

Add these events to the social calendar for the office and team.

This may mean a Diwali lunch or Hanukkah greeting cards or Lunar New Year festivities. (The Survey from Step 1 should inform what dates you should consider).

Introduce a flexible public holiday policy.

Rather than default to a set (largely Christian) holiday model, introduce a Set and Floating holiday model to create an inclusive workplace. This signals a commitment to diversity and inclusion and acknowledges the diversity of employees by allowing them to take public holidays on days that suit their circumstances.





15% of the global population have a disability – amounting to over 1 billion people. 80% of disabilities are invisible and acquired between the ages of 18 and 64 – working age. It is time to dispel the myth that it is hard to find disabled talent or that modifying systems or facilities is too complicated or expensive.

The Census showed 58% of our industry are living with a mental or physical health condition, with 1 in 4 employees reporting to be affected by some ongoing physical condition. Of this cohort, only 10% make their company aware of it.

With this action plan, we would like the industry to take three steps aimed at increasing representation, accessibility and inclusion. Importantly, we acknowledge that Disability is a spectrum, including both physical and intellectual disabilities. Some are invisible. The key thing is to ensure people feel comfortable disclosing their challenges by ensuring people without disabilities understand inclusion.





Available to all organisations at no cost, this tool from the Australian Network on Disability provides a snapshot of your current performance against key access and inclusion criteria. It also provides valuable information on how to progress in all 10 key areas. Simply answer 10 quick questions to assess your maturity and get a score out of 100 to kick-start your access and inclusion journey.




Conduct Disability Awareness Training


The Disability module of the course includes topics such as understanding different types of disabilities, assumptions about disability, technology and disability and how to include disability in the workplace.
Alternatively, Disability Awareness has a free e-learning course available on its site.


And then


Use the Australian Human Rights Commission guide to design a well-publicised and thoroughly prepared DAP.


Take a look at Group M’s DAP for ideas




Create Space 2021 Report
Based on the largest study of its kind into how inclusive and diverse our industry really is, the Create Space report summarises findings through lenses like gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, social mobility and age, and delivers an action plan across six initial priorities for immediate implementation – gender, mental health, microaggressions, LGBTQ, ethnicity and disability. This report was released in July 2022 based on the December 2021 industry census.




Explore case studies

Howatson+Company addresses gender equity

How do you improve the experience and retention of female talent? Howatson+Company’s Head of People & Culture Jamie Francis outlines how the business reimagined its policies around parental leave and returning to work.

Why did Howatson+Company decide to tackle gender equity in line with the Create Space Report & Action Plan?

The general feedback in this industry is that it’s hard to balance working in advertising and being a parent. The Create Space report reinforced this.

We calculated that every child costs their mum on average a whopping $156,584 in lost super earnings.

Gender equity was something we wanted to look at as a priority to offer a workplace that supports parents while they’re on leave and when they return to work.

Primary caregivers at Howatson+Co can now return to work with five days’ pay for four days’ work, or four for three, for their first 12 months back – an alternative option that offers mothers and parents both/and instead of either/or. That means they have the option of balancing both career and family rather than having to choose one or the other.

We also pay superannuation contributions for the entire year of leave – on top of 12 weeks paid parental leave.

Our parental leave policy is gender neutral, including leave for fertility treatments, surrogacy, pregnancy loss, and adoption.

These benefits are available after six months with the agency rather than the more common 12-month waiting period.


Who from the agency was involved? How long was the process?

This was an executive-led initiative with Founder and CEO Chris Howatson and Group Managing Director Renee Hyde at the helm. We’ve worked on this over the last 12 months.

The ‘five for four or four for three’ working week has been offered since Howatson+Co opened in 2021 and we introduced the six-month wait period and gender-neutral enhancements in April 2023 when I did an audit of our people policies, with a nod to the recommendations in the Create Space Action Plan.


Any useful tips, advice or resources that might help other agencies?

Think about what message these policies send to your people and the ROI to the business.

The benefits for us are attracting a wider and more diverse talent pool and retaining exceptional talent, making it clear that we’re doubling down in our support of women and parents in advertising.

The Create Space hub has lots of useful resources and templates too.


Have you noticed any improvements since implementing this action?

It has helped us to attract and retain talent. 60% of our executive team are female as are 40% of our creatives and four of those work part-time which was unheard of five years ago.

Our NPS score is 70.

In a recent Pulse Survey, our people rated their experience at Howatson+Company a 9.3/10.

93% believe there are opportunities for growth at Howatson+Company.

98% feel valued for the work they do.

The results speak for themselves and we’re now looking at what’s next for Howatson+Co in our DE&I journey.


The Create Space Census is open until November 28 2023, to chart the ad industry’s progress on diversity and inclusion. Jump onto to complete the 15-minute survey and join us in making Adland a more inclusive place to work! Click here.

CHEP Network addresses mental health

CHEP Network is the first ACA member agency to have achieved recognition as a Mental Health First Aid Skilled Workplace. Tech Program Director and Mental Health Committee Lead, Louise Hesse, shares some tips on navigating the application process. 

Why did CHEP Network decide to tackle the mental health action and become a Mental Health Skilled Workplace?

Becoming an MHFA Skilled Workplace is a great benchmark for any company to start their mental health wellness journey. The Create Space report highlighted how important this issue is for our industry, with 28% of us affected by a mental health condition.

The Mental Health First Aid® Workplace Recognition Program recognises organisations that invest in developing their people’s mental health first aid skills and acknowledges their achievement and commitment to embedding MHFA training into their culture through actions like senior leadership support, relevant policies, supporting Mental Health First Aid Officers and continuous improvement.

To be awarded, businesses only have to qualify for 9 of the 18 standards but going through them is really helpful to see what you are already doing right as a company, and what you need to think about and plan for the future. 

We thought it was a great qualification to set standards and keep us accountable for maintaining them.

Who from the agency was involved? How long was the process?

Once we reviewed the criteria we realised we were already implementing some of them, so we just had to gather evidence. But from deciding to apply to actually applying, it was about a 5-month process. 

The main reason it takes a while is that 10% of the company has to have completed Mental Health First Aid training in the last three years. While CHEP had over 20 people, we had to boost this to 35 which required budget and time to organise. It’s also important that a broad, diverse and accessible network of Mental Health First Aid Officers is established across the agency, so we needed to engage with people across all of our offices.

This process was driven by CHEP Network’s Mental Health Committee led by me, with support from Maddison Lukes – Data Scientist, and Tom Hrambanis – People & Culture Consultant.


Any useful tips, advice or resources that might help other agencies?

Have a small group working on it, too many people can get complicated. 

The qualification criteria can feel a little repetitive, and certain actions and policies can go against multiple items. It helps to review all the criteria and pick the ones you want to focus on, then list out everything you already do to qualify and what documentation you will need as proof. 

Mental Health First Aid only review the entries quarterly, so we’d recommend looking at those dates and working back from there. 

The other tip is to ensure you’re keeping records of communications you send, posters you put up and how you store important information. Creating a shared file to gather this information and labelling it usefully makes the application process much easier. 

And most importantly, don’t rush it. The whole point of this is to make the place you work in a safer one, so don’t just tick a box, think about whether what you’re doing is enough and if there’s scope to improve it before you submit.

Ensure there is a future plan and roadmap in place to maintain the momentum and recognise all the areas where there is an opportunity to improve. This is an ongoing program. 


Have you noticed any improvements since implementing this action?

This initiative and our MHFA Skilled Workplace recognition have come up in conversations with clients and on pitches and it’s received positively. It has also given our Mental Health committee a clear roadmap to focus on over the next year. 

We’re incredibly proud to be officially recognised, but we continue to work together to create a safe and supportive workplace for all our staff and build our skills to the next level in this area to ensure that our employees’ mental well-being remains a top priority.


The Create Space Census is open until November 28 2023, to chart the ad industry’s progress on diversity and inclusion. Jump onto to complete the 15-minute survey and join us in making Adland a more inclusive place to work! Click here.



publicis groupe addresses the experience and representation of LBGTQIA+ PEOPLE

Publicis Groupe is the first ACA member agency to have achieved recognition as an AWEI-certified Employer. Head of DE&I, Jess Farrell, shares what’s required to earn recognition as a top employer for LGBTQ people in Australia.


Why did Publicis Groupe decide to tackle the  LBGTQ+ action and become an AWEI-certified workplace?

Egalite is our Employee Resource Group dedicated to employees and their allies in the rainbow community. 

As members of Pride in Diversity, we decided to become AWEI-certified because we wanted to ensure we were focused on meaningful impact and change in this space. 

The Create Space Census indicated that our industry is not as open and inclusive as it thinks it is in regard to queer talent.

Our workplaces lack queer representation at senior levels (9% of agency leadership) despite over a quarter of junior talent identifying as LGBTQIA+. What’s more, 32% choose to hide their sexuality at work. 

At Publicis Groupe, we want to hold ourselves accountable to the definitive national benchmark on LGBTQ workplace inclusion and ensure we’re meeting the standards held by many of Australia’s largest and most prominent employers. 


Who from the agency was involved? How long was the process?

It was a very detailed and meticulous process as we worked through what was required as part of the submission, which took us about 12 months to complete.

We made many best practice policy changes, ensured communication and support were coming from our senior leaders and that we were educating our broader team along the way. 

The work for the AWEI submission was mostly completed by Joshua Green, our Committee Lead, working closely with me and the broader Egalite team as we collated resources, documentation and information in the areas of: 

  • People and Culture policy and diversity practice 
  • LGBTQ Bullying, Harassment and Support 
  • Inclusion of Trans and Gender Diverse employees 
  • Strategic focus and accountability 
  • LGBTQ Employee Network 
  • Training, Awareness and Professional Development


Any useful tips, advice or resources that might help other agencies?

We utilised the support of our Pride in Diversity representative. They provided invaluable support and advice, so that by the time we got to submission we were confident with what we’d gathered. It made a huge difference. 

Have you noticed any improvements since implementing this action?

Lots of the work has already been implemented and up and running for the last 12 months – policy changes, training and education, DE&I strategy, connection of our Employee Resource Groups, celebrations and events etc. 

It was fantastic for the Egalite team to be recognised for the contribution they make to Publicis Groupe. A testament to their passion and commitment to ensuring Publicis Groupe continues to remain an inclusive employer! 


The Create Space Census is open until November 28 2023, to chart the ad industry’s progress on diversity and inclusion. Jump onto to complete the 15-minute survey and join us in making Adland a more inclusive place to work! Click here.

the works addresses mental health

The Works is consistently ranked as a great place to work and takes its people-first culture seriously.

Improving mental health meant moving beyond the standard corporate wellness benefits to a proactive training and support program. People and Talent Coordinator, Megan Errity, shares the agency’s progress.


Why did The Works decide to tackle mental health as an action area?

As we all know, mental health challenges are faced by everyone at one point or another. 

The topic of mental health is rife in our industry, with the last Create Space Census showing how high the stats are for ongoing stress, anxiety and depression – 28% of us are affected by a mental health condition and only 1 in 3 of these people inform their employer.

The industry has often failed people with burnout, deadlines, pressure, and expectations. As a people-first business, we wanted to show that working in an industry you love without compromising your mental state was possible.

Our agency felt it was a priority to invest in this area. Whether in their personal or professional lives, we wanted to provide resources for our staff to access when they need extra support. 


Who from the agency was involved? How long was the process?

While we have a robust set of employee wellbeing benefits, we focused on changing behaviours rather than promoting cures.

The Create Space Action Plan urges all businesses to read and sign the Mentally Healthy Minimum Standards, holding ourselves to account for putting mental health first.  

These standards also provide many ideas for proactively supporting people at work. 

To drive our integrated program, we formed a Wellness Champions Team, who are all Mental Health First Aid certified.

This took a few months to organise but it ensures we have people on the ground who are trained to spot the signs of mental health struggles and burnout so we can shift from reactive to proactive support. 

Wellness Champions also have one-on-one sessions with every new starter to build trust and demonstrate we are serious about protecting everyone’s mental health, dispel any stigma about this issue, and encourage open conversations.

Beyond Mental Health First Aid, we decided to invest in the training and accreditation of one of our team members as an in-house mindset coach. We aim to empower our people to overcome challenges and cultivate a resilient mindset by scheduling these three-month coaching programs. 

Statistics inform us that a poor manager is one of the most significant stresses in the workplace. So we put all our leaders through the Brené Brown “Dare to Lead” accreditation – to ensure our team learn how to become inspiring and empathetic leaders, ensuring their team has a positive mental experience.


Any useful tips, advice or resources that might help other agencies?
  • Ensure staff training, particularly in mental health, is on your priority list. i.e. – Mental Health First Aid training 
  • Always strive to challenge what workplace mental well-being looks like. How can you support staff beyond the norm? 
  • Approach mental health offerings in an ‘always on’ capacity
  • Continuously strive to foster a psychologically safe culture within your agency  

Have you noticed any improvements since implementing this action?

We scored a 93% NPS level in a recent all-staff survey, showing an increased staff satisfaction rate year on year.  

 In the same survey, 100% of staff said they were made to feel welcome/comfortable when they first joined the agency. 

100% also said they feel comfortable conversing openly and honestly with their line manager.

From the coaching sessions, 100% of participants felt it has had a significant impact on them.

We will continue to measure and monitor these data points, as this is critical to any behaviour change initiative. This is also why the Create Space initiative is so important.


The Create Space Census is open until November 28 2023, to chart the ad industry’s progress on diversity and inclusion. Jump onto to complete the 15-minute survey and join us in making Adland a more inclusive place to work! Click here.

About the Create Space initative

The Create Space census first launched in December 2021 and gathered comprehensive data from over 2,600 professionals from across the advertising, media and marketing industries. The census delivered a rich portrait of the industry today and how it looks, feels and behaves when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. It also provides benchmarks to compare and measure our performance.

In July 2022, the Create Space report was released with a national webinar, unveiling the findings under the headings of gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, disability, mental health, neurodiversity and cultural norms. The first phase of the Create Space Action Plan zeroed in on three initial priorities for immediate action – gender equity, mental health and microaggressions. In June 2023, three new actions were released focusing on the experience and representation of LGBTQIA+ talent, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities.

To measure the industry’s progress on diversity and inclusion, ACA ran the second Create Space Census in November 2023 with the results being published in May 2024.