Let's move beyond box-ticking
A view from Claire Beale

Let's move beyond box-ticking

It's time to turn the gender and diversity debates more effectively on the work sent out into the real world.

To the man who wrote to me recently complaining that Campaign was becoming adland’s Spare Rib: we’re at it again in support of International Women’s Day this week. No apologies; get over it.

Every time I think, well, we’ve written enough about diversity and equality for a few weeks, let’s take a break, I have a conversation like this one with an agency chief executive who has a healthy proportion of young female creatives working at the business and is keen for more: "But the trouble is that an awful lot of clients – men and women – don’t respond well to a young female creative. They’re not used to dealing with them so they feel uncomfortable."

Or this one with the (female) chief marketing officer of a mid-sized brand launching one of its infrequent TV campaigns: "I told the agency upfront I wanted the ad to be properly diverse and inclusive. I insisted. The campaign I got back was heartbreakingly stereotyped and I’d even say sexist."

Jeez, how far we’ve still got to go.

Mind you, getting stuck into diversity can be a minefield; this is not a bandwagon to jump aboard lightly and the best intentions can backfire. I felt for J Walter Thompson this week when it celebrated International Women’s Day by inviting the schoolgirls who won its recent Young Tribes Day contest to take over the agency’s Facebook and Twitter channels. When it was revealed that the girls came from a private school, JWT received a dollop of predictable flak.

Trying to do the right thing can be a risky business. And the biggest danger of all is that you spend all your time organising initiatives to champion deserving causes and yet never actually change a damn thing. Boxes are ticked, time and money are spent, fame (even gongs) are won but there’s no tangible, lasting benefit to the people who really need help.

Meanwhile, the biggest opportunity we really have to make a difference is under-exploited: the work the industry produces – the stuff that we claim changes attitudes, shapes culture – is all too often allowed to perpetuate the very inequalities and prejudices we say we want to combat.

As the female CMO mentioned earlier discovered, saying the right thing is not the same as doing the right thing. Her ad campaign reinforced the very stereotypes that she has tried to fight within her own company. To add to the irony, the agency that produced it has also joined in with its fair share of industry-facing diversity and equality initiatives.

It’s time to turn the gender and diversity debates more effectively on the work agencies and marketers send out into the real world. If we really believe in the power of advertising, imagine what a difference that could make. 

Claire Beale is global editor-in-chief of Campaign.