Perspective: Absence of women in top jobs runs risk of turning off talent

As the IPA revisits the 1989 Women in Advertising study and the D&AD president, Larry Barker, makes the lack of female creatives a central pillar of his manifesto (Campaign, last week), there is only one issue for this week’s column: women in advertising and why there are so few women in top management and creative departments.

As the IPA revisits the 1989 Women in Advertising study and the

D&AD president, Larry Barker, makes the lack of female creatives a

central pillar of his manifesto (Campaign, last week), there is only one

issue for this week’s column: women in advertising and why there are so

few women in top management and creative departments.



In 1989, when the IPA president, Winston Fletcher, asked Marilyn Baxter,

Saatchi & Saatchi’s planning director, to write Women in Advertising,

the most obvious reason why women had not reached the top of agencies in

any numbers was because there had not been enough women in the industry

for long enough.



By now, you might suppose that the significant increase in the number of

women entering advertising would be reflected in an increase in the

number at the top of agencies - which is patently not the case.



In fact, while stalwarts like MT Rainey, Christine Walker, Cilla

Snowball and Jennifer Laing forge ahead, many of the other significant

female role models and spokespeople have left agencies, for whatever

reason, for other fields. And they have not been replaced by a new

generation of women. Think of Baxter (now the chair of Hall & Partners),

Rita Clifton (chief executive at Interbrand Newell and Sorrell), Stevie

Spring (chief executive of the More Group) and Carol Reay (chief

executive at Great Ormond Street).



For Barker and the D&AD, there are two questions: why are there so few

women in agency creative departments, and why are there so few at the

top? His is the tougher brief. It will involve calling into question the

nature of creative departments (intensely masculine), the nature of the

best creative people (aggressive, unco-operative and uncompromising) and

the huge demands placed upon them (conspicuous talent and heaps of

awards, not just management talent, is an absolute requirement for

creative success). Whatever, D&AD is the best body to investigate

further and let’s hope Barker makes his promises a reality.



There are no rumblings from the media world yet. However, my spies

suggest that recent IPA banter concerning what constitutes a suitable

female candidate for the IPA media policy group (in summary: crumpet

first and worker second) seems to suggest that all the macho cliches

still hold true despite media’s positioning as a more ’thinking job’

these days.



There are no quick and easy answers to this issue, and a host of

sociological, historical, biological and economic forces are at play.

The only certainty is that it is worthy of investigation for basic

commercial reasons. It is in agencies’ best interests to attract the

best people; many of these will be women and if advertising has a

reputation, for whatever reason, for not promoting women, then its

capacity to attract them will be impaired.



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