P&G's Roisin Donnelly: 'I haven't had a breakfast meeting in 15 years'

Companies need to celebrate different ways of working and address the fundamental structural barriers holding women back in their business in order to embrace the industry's diversity crisis.

The 'Like a Girl' campaign for P&G's Always brand was 'emotive and creative'
The 'Like a Girl' campaign for P&G's Always brand was 'emotive and creative'
We can’t feel guilty about what we decide to do with our lives, you can't be in two places at the same time and you can’t do it all

Speaking at the 3% conference in London, Roisin Donnelly, brand director at P&G Northern Europe, says that 'anything is possible' when it comes to reframing the industry's working practices. She explains: "I haven't done a breakfast meeting in 15 years; you need to work out what works for you and what works for the team. You work better if you work in a way which suits your life, not around someone else's clock."

She also urged women to challenge the negative voice in their head, saying that all too often women are their own worst critics. She explains: "We can’t feel guilty about what we decide to do with our lives, you can't be in two places at the same time and you can’t do it all."

Speaking out every time

Donnelly made a decision to speak up on gender equality very early on; in fact she was just 10 years old. Whilst doing her paper round in the run up to Christmas a woman came to the door with a crisp £1 note festive bonus, but when she saw it was a little girl delivering her hefty papers she turned on her heel to get a chocolate bar instead. Donnelly made the decision there and then never to not speak up again.

With the advent of the equal pay act and the IPA/Campaign initiative to publish agency league tables, it is unlikely that even a vat of the finest chocolate could sweeten the blow of the industry's abysmal diversity record.

However, Donnelly says that the IPA initiative is just the 'tip of the iceberg' when it comes to addressing the lack of diversity in the industry. Pointing to the phenomenal strides that have been made at P&G, she says that businesses need to address the fundamental structural barriers holding women back in their organisations. "The magic won't happen overnight,' she warns. The industry is now tasked with the challenging task of shifting rhetoric to business reality.

Celebrating difference

Describing about how P&G has succeeded in nurturing a diverse talent pool Donnelly says making the differences in working practises very visible is vital. She explains: "We celebrate different ways of working, it is not all about kids, it’s about balancing the needs of the individual and the work. The leadership team, men or women, will say they are leaving to go to sports day or pick up their children."

She says that the structure of P&G, with its focus on data, also encourages diversity. "When you work at a company that is results focused, it doesn't matter how many hours you work or what gender you are, it is all about what you get done," she explains.

Addressing the talent exodus

While the exodus of female talent mid-career continues to be a huge issue for much of the marketing and advertising industry, P&G has addressed this challenge head on with a relentless focus on promoting from within. In addition, managers at P&G are measured on diversity. According to Donnelly this means that retaining talent is higher on the corporate agenda.

The company has also made a number of practical steps to address the female talent shortage; by identifying key barriers in the workplace and offering tangible solutions. This includes what Donnelly calls 'the horror that is childcare' by working with a consultancy which not only helps employees find a nursery for their children, but provides emergency childcare with vetted nannies.

In addition, the company takes flexible working with short and compressed working days seriously. Crucially the company has a culture that respects these boundaries so, for example, meetings are only scheduled between the core hours of 10 and 4.

As a mother of three teenage girls I want to see half the world's companies run by women, half the ad agencies run by women, half the creative departments staffed by women. Which means we need more men running the home

While for those employees shifting to a 4-day week, the company ensures their workload is adjusted accordingly.  "The worst thing is taking a 20% pay cut and finding you are still working a 5 day week," she explains.

Set goals

Donnelly also encouraged women to set goals regularly - both personally and professionally - in order to ensure progression. Explaining that simply having a collaborative and happy review may not get the long-term result you want.

She adds "As a mother of three teenage girls I want to see half the world's companies run by women, half the ad agencies run by women, half the creative departments staffed by women. Which means we need more men running the home."

Diverse teams build better business

It is clear that building and retaining a diverse talent pool is fundamental to business success. In fact,  Donnelly cites diversity as a key driver of success for P&G's marketing endeavours. Pointing  to the groundbreaking Like A Girl campaign for Always, she cites a direct coloration between the fact that 50% of the board are women to the fact the company is creating such creative and emotive advertising.

On a personal level she also noted that fostering the right culture is vital, explaining: "We spend so many hours working there is no point leaving our children and the things we love unless it is to do something we love in an environment that is supportive."


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