Plenty of room at the top for women in advertising
A view from Claire Beale

Plenty of room at the top for women in advertising

When a select bunch of the brightest and best young stars in the ad business were asked this week to name a leader they admired, there were plenty of answers, from Nelson Mandela to John Lennon.

What there weren’t, though, were any women. Not a single female leader made the impromptu list.

The respondents were attending the second Campaign Future Leaders Programme. All had been identified by their agencies as people heading for top jobs in our industry. As it turned out, only a third of the future leaders on the course were women, which is in itself a worrying prognosis for the future of our business.

Anyway, if this group of ambitious execs had been asked to name great female leaders, no doubt they would have offered up plenty of examples – there’s no shortage. As it was, they appeared to succumb to a default association that conflates leadership with men.

So it was appropriate that this was also the week that the IPA and Campaign kicked off the Women of Tomorrow awards for 2016, which identify and champion those women on track for leadership positions in agencies. The awards invest a new generation of role models for young women coming into the business.

Yes, these are awards that recognise women but, crucially, they are designed to drive the success of the industry and secure its future: businesses with a good gender split at the top are proven to be more successful. A report last month from the accountants Grant Thornton found that publicly traded companies in the UK with only male directors missed out on £49 billion of investment returns last year – about 3 per cent of GDP.

We simply aren’t doing enough to encourage and support women as they rise through the ranks. WoT is a fabulous initiative and sits alongside Wacl’s prestigious Future Leaders award, which offers a training bursary to help women get to the top. But agencies themselves need to take systematic action.

It was clear from the WoT debate on Tuesday night, which officially launched the call for entries, that plenty of agencies are already doing just that. Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO has set up a benchmarking system to ensure salary parity across the company; Bartle Bogle Hegarty is into the second year of its equal pay initiative but, when the agency interrogated its salary data, it actually found that it only had issues with the pay of three executives – and one of them was a man; J Walter Thompson is introducing a new approach to hiring creative talent, ensuring there’s always a woman on the interview shortlist and that interviews are conducted by a man and a woman. If your agency isn’t working on similar schemes, now’s the time to ask why not.