Back in the middle of the last century, Phyllis Robinson was copy chief at one of the best advertising agencies in the business, Doyle Dane Bernbach. Although she often insisted that she never encountered any prejudice as a result of her gender, she’s exactly the sort of pioneer you’d hope would have signified radical change and equal opportunities for women in advertising and marketing.
But no – almost half-a-century on, still only 11% of the world’s creative directors are women. The speed of change since Robinson’s day has been shamefully slow. A year or two ago, we could comfort ourselves with the thought that at least we were all aware of it, talking about it, running round and launching conferences and writing articles. But still not much actually happened.
Now, finally, it feels like material change is top of the agenda, though it’s far, far, far from job done. From Creative Equals’ brilliant returnship programme to Wacl’s Future Leaders Award, from agency initiatives such as DDB’s Phyllis Project to Tom Knox’s agenda as IPA president, we’re moving forward. If none of these initiatives has touched you or the company you work for, have a very firm word with your boss (and if you are the boss, shame on you).
Mind you, in his timely tribute to Robinson, Amir Kassaei doesn’t mention that she actually stepped down from the copy chief role when she had her daughter Nancy and went on a three-day-week contract. Whether that was entirely her choice, I guess we can’t know but it certainly wouldn’t have helped the women behind her to feel confident in combining a senior role with parenthood. Better assistance for working parents – not, of course, a gender issue – is still for the most part on the industry’s to-do list.
But we also need to find the bandwidth to drive diversity in a wider context too. The brilliant piece by Chris Bovill and John Allison spotlights a different approach to diversity, the joyful rich creativity that results from having a real mix of different types of people. Different colours, abilities, sexualities, experiences. I love the idea that "advertising has a creativity problem. And diversity is the solution."
How utterly dispiriting, then, to see the agency sector’s stats on ethnic diversity are still lagging, even though the apparent decline is largely a result of a new survey base for the IPA report. Twelve per cent is simply not good enough.
And I wonder how long it will be before the much-admired Russell Ramsey (who is leaving J Walter Thompson because the agency is "reinventing what brand-building creativity means for the wonderfully diverse world in which we live") is back in fashion once the diversity agenda gets round to age.