Don't just accept the lack of female creative talent
A view from Claire Beale

Don't just accept the lack of female creative talent

I spent last week at Campaign's US headquarters, dripping outside but freezing inside pretty much every agency or restaurant I visited.

So it wasn’t surprising when a new report on the inherent discrimination of air-conditioning became a talking point in Manhattan.

Apparently, air-con standards are based on research conducted in the 60s using the resting metabolic rate of one 40-year-old, 11-stone man. Women have a lower metabolic rate and feel cold when men are happily ambient. So now air-con’s being hailed as another example of ingrained discrimination – one that we just accept as a fact of life until someone points out that it doesn’t need to be that way. Like the number of female creatives in ad agencies, say.

As the ad industry welcomes a new influx of graduates, one of the most read and shared stories on Campaignlive this week has been a piece by VML’s Lisa Blythman-Wood headlined "My advice for young female creatives going into advertising". "The poor ratio of male-to-female creative directors in the industry right now is hard to ignore and day-to-day sexism has a lot to do with it," Blythman-Wood writes.

Meanwhile, in this week's issue, Kate Stanners discusses how to be a chief creative officer and, though she appropriately avoids making a big issue out of her gender, it’s the first point she raises. Apparently, when Stanners started out, she was rejected by some agencies because "we’ve already got one of you". 

Before you dismiss this anecdote as a quaint slice of adland history, it’s worth repeating a story that Campaign ran on Diary a few weeks back and which deserves more serious attention. Grey’s Vicki Maguire was called up by a male executive creative director, on the scout for talent, who told her he needed "to put some skirt" in his creative department. Ignore his choice of words if you can; he’s looking for female talent so that’s a good thing, right? 

Well, yes, if he’s looking for excellent female talent to apply for jobs alongside excellent male talent and intends to hire the best regardless of gender and nurture them in a culture that is equally supportive of men and women. But if he’s conducting a box-ticking exercise, wants to hire a woman just because she’s a woman and has no plans to create a fair environment for men and women to thrive together, then his agency sounds doomed.

Like the air-con, once you start thinking about it, you realise pretty quickly that the make-up of our creative departments has been engineered for a bygone era. You can’t just flick a switch and solve the problem, but you can admit the problem and start working out how to fix it. With the new wave of graduate recruits, we have another chance to get it right.