IPA census: Women, along with younger and older staff, hit hardest by pandemic

IPA said Covid-19 has 'exaggerated existing negative trends', such as lack of gender equality and ageism.

IPA Agency Census: number of women employed full time fell 12.8% compared with 8.1% for men (Getty Images)
IPA Agency Census: number of women employed full time fell 12.8% compared with 8.1% for men (Getty Images)

Staff numbers have dropped by more than 10% among IPA member agencies in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the association’s annual census has found.

The IPA Agency Census – which is based on the survey responses of 118 (or 86%) of its member agencies – found that staff numbers fell by 11%, or a fall of 2,678 people, from 24,866 in 2019 to 22,188 in 2020. 

In creative and other non-media agencies, employees fell by 9% from 13,509 in 2019 to 12,298 in 2020, while staff numbers in media agencies dropped by 12% from 11,357 to 9,980.

Responding agencies reported that a quarter of total employee departures were a direct result of the pandemic, although this figure was higher among creative and other non-media agencies (31%) compared with media agencies (20%). 

Women bore the brunt

The number of women employed in agencies fell disproportionately to men year on year.

The number of women employed full time in member agencies fell by 13% from 13,088 to 11,411, while the number of men employed full time was down 8% from 11,700 to 10,752.

There was a much greater decline in the number of part-time employees at member agencies, a group dominated by women, with the overall number of individuals working in a part-time role falling by 23%, from 1,615 to 1,240. The number of part-time women fell by 25% from 1,373 to 1,037 and male part-time employees dropped 15% from 238 to 202.

Agencies also reported a gender pay gap of 23% in favour of men – a slight improvement on the 24% recorded in 2019. The figure is significantly higher in creative and other non-media agencies (26%) than in media agencies, where it stands at 14%.

Agencies with up to 200 employees also had a higher gender pay gap – 27% in favour of men – compared with larger agencies, where the figure was 21%.

Other recent data has also shown that women are being severely affected by the coronavirus outbreak. A survey of nearly 20,000 mothers and pregnant women carried out by campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed found that 15% had been made redundant (or expected to be) in what founder Joeli Brearley has referred to as “a generational rollback”.

Younger and older employees also hit hard 

The census also found that the pandemic has particularly affected employees under 25 and over 60.

The number of people under the age of 25 employed in member agencies declined by 29% (from 4,592 to 3,243) – accounting for more than 50% of the total decline in employee numbers of 2,678 last year. 

The number of employees over the age of 60, which was already small, has fallen significantly from 240 to 187 – a drop of 22%.

The decline in older employees could worsen what Momentum Worldwide’s Anna Dalziel once called “the ad industry’s last taboo”: ageism.

This issue came under the spotlight last year when WPP chief executive Mark Read was accused of ageism after saying that the average age of the company's staff is under 30 and "they don't hark back to the 1980s, luckily". 

The IPA's study found that the average employee age in a media agency is 32 years, compared with an average of 36.4 years in creative and other non-media agencies.

Ethnic diversity increases 

Agencies involved in the census recorded an overall ethnicity pay gap of 20% in favour of those from a white background. It is the first time the IPA has analysed the ethnicity pay gap. This ratio stood at 16% in creative and other non-media agencies and 21% in media agencies.

The proportion of staff from a non-white background has risen. It stands at an estimated 15%, up from 14% in 2019, with the figure peaking among junior levels at 22% (an increase from 18% in 2019). 

At C-Suite level (comprising chair, chief executive, managing director and other executive management), 6.4% of roles are occupied by individuals from a non-white background, up from 4.7% in 2019.

Existing negative trends

“The pandemic has hit all areas of our lives and – sadly but unsurprisingly – our jobs, as this latest IPA Census reveals,” Julian Douglas, the new president of the IPA, said. 

“With the exception of numbers of people from non-white backgrounds increasing, in spite of overall numbers falling, the impact of the pandemic has exaggerated some existing negative trends.”

“Talent is equally distributed; opportunity isn't. Now is the time to turn the industry's good intentions into meaningful actions.

“The awareness is here, the resources and best-practice examples are available. It is up to all of us to put our words into action for the sustained effort required to enable everyone to have their rightful share of opportunity.”

Failure to meet diversity targets

The industry is still failing to meet the diversity targets that the IPA set out in 2016. 

One of those targets was for women to hold 40% of senior positions by 2020. In fact, the percentage of women in C-suite positions fell from 34% in 2019 to 32% in 2020. 

Another target stated that, by 2020, 15% of people in leadership positions should be from non-white backgrounds. In reality, just 6.4% were. 

Finally, while the IPA had aimed for at least 25% of entry-level recruits to be from ethnic-minority backgrounds by 2020, last year this figure reached 21.9% – up from 17.7% in 2019.

Leila Siddiqi, associate director of diversity at the IPA, said: “These targets were a deliberate moonshot to focus agencies’ attention on improving the diversity and inclusivity of their workforce and the work they produce for the benefit of all. 

“Reaching these targets requires industry leaders to double down on their efforts."

She added that while “the numbers haven’t changed as much as we had hoped, some attitudes have”, including increased acceptance of flexible working, more empathy towards mental health, the awareness that women need more robust support systems and the need for better racial diversity following the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Right now, we have the unique opportunity to harness this new understanding by adjusting our ways of working and creating a new culture, fit for the current times, that works better for all of us,” Siddiqi concluded. 

Earlier this month, the IPA joined forces with the Advertising Association and ISBA to deliver the first industry-wide (agency, advertiser and media owner) diversity and inclusion staff survey

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