Gender diversity is still a problem. There is no getting around it. Women are still far less likely to reach top leadership roles than their male counterparts – and that’s bad for business and it’s bad for women’s careers.
The worst part? Not much has changed. Fourteen years ago I wrote a report for the IPA called Women in Advertising: Ten Years On. Back then, women accounted for just 9% of the very top jobs of chairs, CEOs or MDs and 15% of those in creative departments.
By 2015, women made up 32% of those in the most senior positions but still only 26% of those in creative departments, according to IPA’s Gender & BAME Survey.
Clearly, women have made progress in the past decade or so, most notably in media agencies. When I wrote my report, Christine Walker was the only woman leading a media agency in the UK. Now women make up 35% of those positions.
But having a few more female chairs, CEOs and MDs isn’t enough. Women influence or control 80% of spending, and yet if you were to walk into many creative departments today you would be forgiven for thinking that, while you may not find the creative director stretched out on the sofa or a bar cart in sight, the Mad Men casting has been frozen in time.
The proportion of creative directors who are women is now estimated at just 3%. When I wrote the IPA report back in 2002, some of the key reasons for women’s slow progress were the lack of role models, discrimination and family responsibilities.
Women also left agency life to pursue a better work-life balance. Young women entering the industry were just too sensible to eat Pot Noodles and sleep on someone’s floor for two years in order to get a permanent role as a creative.
Fast forward 12 years and we are still faced with many of the same issues. Seven in ten CEOs or MDs are still male. Most board members are men (and while I am proud that 50% of Engine’s executive board are women, it troubles me that I can count on one hand the number of female creative directors we have).
And just when we thought that balancing having children and progressing our careers without completely falling apart was enough, we also have to fight attitudes like Kevin Roberts’, who tells us the industry is already equal enough.
Women are happy being where they are, we’re told.
Reducing the argument to women somehow being more comfortable in less challenging roles is just wrong. Of course not everyone wants the top job, but if we don’t champion all of our employees and challenge them to shoot for the stars, we’ll never get to the IPA’s stated Diversity Goals, where women will hold 40% of senior positions by 2020.
I’m not saying men and women aren’t different. Diversity is about recognising those differences. Men and women approach work, clients and creativity differently. Our brains are wired differently, which is why clients want to know that they have all the chromosomes they can get working on their creative ideas.
At least 50% of our senior clients are women, and it’s much better for our business if that is mirrored across the table. So what can we do about it?
Men and women approach work, clients and creativity differently. Our brains are wired differently, which is why clients want to know that they have all the chromosomes they can get working on their creative ideas.
Involving men in the conversation so that women are not talking to themselves is the first part. Whether we like it or not, men still hold most of the power. If we want change, then men have to see and recognise that because change is better for creativity, it’s better for clients, and better for all of us.
Making the women who are in senior roles, especially creative roles, more visible is also important. Celebrating awards won by women. Women speaking on more platforms, and men championing those women speaking.
As the statistics show, this is a long game. In 14 years the numbers have shifted, but not enough. If we want the next generation who come into this industry to herald a true demographic shift, then we need to start talking to them as they leave school, at college and as they enter the industry.
To mentor them, coach them and make them believe that they can achieve greatness in this industry. Or they will simply choose to go and achieve it elsewhere.
Diversity matters to our business, because diversity of people leads to diversity of ideas and innovation. And that is why our clients pay us – to come up with brilliant ideas that reflect and change the world.
In my original report I said that ideas don’t have genitals, and this is still true. In our constant battle to gain an unfair share of the best talent in the industry, the agencies that show they get this are those that will win.
Debbie Klein is the chief executive of Engine Europe and Asia-Pacific.