Progress means being honest with ourselves
A view from Maisie McCabe

Progress means being honest with ourselves

Adland must recognise that diversity is an HR, not a PR, issue. So let's spend less time talking about change and more time delivering it.

School Reports. I’m not sure about you, but I’m glad they’re over for another year. That said, it can be difficult to fit all the questions they raise into one issue and so I thought it’d be worth dragging our (and your) hard work out for another week.

One of the things I always find enlightening is the key personnel section. How long do founders remain on the list when they have senior staff who are hungry for recognition and eager to dance on their parquet floors?

Which agencies choose to list the chief creative officer rather than the pair of executive creative directors doing most of the hands-on work – and vice versa?

Which major hire pitched as a story is nowhere to be seen despite emphatic assurances of their seniority?

It reminded me of a time last year when an agency requested we use a photograph featuring a wider range of promoted staff, flagging that it included women, despite not giving said females any of the top jobs.

Last year, I spent an afternoon going through the 2016 reports to calculate the gender split at each of the agencies. Of the 102 shops we covered that year, 28 were without a woman among their key personnel.

Now, we already know from the IPA and Campaign’s "This is adland" report that the proportion of women in the top two agency tiers (chair/chief executive/managing director and other executive management) declined slightly to 30.2% in the latest figures.

Flicking through last week’s reports, 25 of this year’s 102 (a slightly different collection of shops) are without any women in their top team. The numbers have barely improved. And the improvement masks some fiddling of the books.

Don’t get me started on the agencies that decided to list executives in roles they’ve not included in the top team before. The people in these newly elevated disciplines all happen to be female. Yes, we did notice.

One agency contacted me on Thursday to ask me to change its proportion of female senior management, forgetting that it came from the IPA and Campaign report. I was confidently told their zero should be replaced with 40% on account of a long list of staff supplied with not so much as a job title between them. It reminded me of a time last year when an agency requested we use a photograph featuring a wider range of promoted staff, flagging that it included women, despite not giving said females any of the top jobs.

Tracey Follows writes in her column this week that many of us have fallen into the trap of talking about change rather than delivering it. The next generation is simply not going to put up with that. It’s great that the importance of diversity – and, my God, don’t I know that gender is but the very first step – is on the agenda. But let’s not stop at inviting private girls’ schools into our agencies or writing think pieces about what you do as a male leader (in an organisation that turns down requests to work part-time).

This isn’t about telling prospective female candidates that you "need a female MD" – the least appealing come-on since Jack Nicholson leered at Jennifer Lawrence at the 2013 Oscars – but about pushing back on single-gender lists from headhunters and properly supporting your existing talent.

I’m going to count the personnel again next year. I hope you’ll have shifted the dial.