I recently had the huge honour and privilege of taking over the presidency of Women in Advertising Communications London, or Wacl.
My theme for the coming year is "speak up". Thankfully, this isn’t an acronym. I did toy with one – "stop politically egregious arseholiness…" – but I couldn’t hurdle that "K" and the "U" was also daunting. So "speak up" is an imperative.
As I was formulating my theme, I had two starkly contrasting experiences that reinforced my focus.
The first was hearing Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook, interviewed by our brilliant outgoing president, Lindsay Pattison of Maxus. She was compelling and inspiring about the challenges facing men and women in achieving equality and the opportunities for our industry in doing so. One of the recurring themes was women’s lack of confidence in stepping up.
Later that same day, I had a conversation with a senior man in the industry. He congratulated me on my upcoming presidency but advised me to be careful as he felt Wacl had "gone too far" – women were now dominating the industry, and he and a lot of his friends were worried about it.
After handing him a hankie to mop his tears and then checking which century we were in, I tried to reassure him that his concern was misplaced. He and his friends were in no immediate danger of being dominated, given that women make up only 25 per cent of the most senior positions in the industry and, in any case, there is no anti-men agenda. Pro-women is not the same as anti-men. But he remained unconvinced and was at pains to warn me against the dangers of being too vocal. Given the choice, I suspect he’d prefer the theme to be "shut up". I fear I’m going to disappoint him.
So what do I mean by "speak up"? I mean it in three different ways.
Speak up to inspire others
I find it frustrating that, although women are famously brilliant communicators, for some reason, when it comes to the public sphere, they are often eerily silent. Simply not enough women’s voices are heard in public. I want to change this.
This is so important because young women find it very hard to speak up and female leaders are doing them a huge disservice if we don’t lead the way in showing them how. As Cindy Gallop says: "You can’t be it if you can’t see it." Not every senior woman is confident about speaking in public, but confidence is a product of our experience – so the more you do it, the easier you’ll find it.
Speak up to challenge and change
To adapt a famous quote for our purposes: "All that is required for evil to flourish is for good men and women to remain silent." Wacl aims to be a critical friend to our industry on issues around gender and diversity, pointing out what needs to change and offering help to make it happen.
Speak up to point out the gender imbalance at the conference you’re attending. If you’re a man, refuse to accept any speaking engagement until you have been reassured that there is some balance among the speakers and you won’t be appearing on yet another "manel". Challenge your board to investigate the status on equal pay, remind people to include women on shortlists for any senior jobs, speak up when you hear casual sexism, encourage women in your organisation to accept speaking engagements.
Remind people to include women on shortlists for any senior jobs, speak up when you hear casual sexism
Various studies have shown that women are more likely to be interrupted in a meeting, so speak up when you see it happening. And then, for the brave, speak up about these issues publicly when you have the opportunity.
Speak up to celebrate
Public celebration and praise is a very powerful tool. We should use that tool to celebrate the successes of women as well as those companies and individuals that are leading the way in making positive change happen.
Let’s give praise in the industry where praise is due: Tom Knox for the courageous decision to choose "advertising for good" as the theme of his IPA presidency; conference organisers who make an improvement in their gender balance; the companies that come top of the diversity league tables; Campaign for being a leading voice on the issue of equality.
I know that the man who was worried about Wacl is not representative of men in our industry. And to all the men who are trying hard to address the challenges around diversity and gender, I salute you. Thank you for going out of your way to engage with these important topics.
My Wacl theme for the year is a call to action for everyone who likes the idea of having a more interesting, more creative, more commercially successful industry and a much nicer, balanced working environment.
Within Wacl, we will be developing a diverse programme of activity on the "speak up" theme over the next year or so, from encouraging and inspiring women to celebrating the best of what is happening. If you have a great idea on this topic, speak up – I’d love to hear it.
Lindsey Clay is the chief executive of Thinkbox