WOMEN IN ADVERTISING: The myth and the reality - Emma Hall reports on the IPA's second landmark report into women and the work-life balance in advertising

It's not often that women lead the way in advertising. But after years of playing catch-up with their male colleagues, the IPA's new Women in Advertising survey has found at least one area where women are ahead of the game.

It's not often that women lead the way in advertising. But after years of playing catch-up with their male colleagues, the IPA's new Women in Advertising survey has found at least one area where women are ahead of the game.

The struggle for a work-life balance was once dismissed as an alibi for mums who had lost interest in their careers but still wanted to enjoy the benefits of working life, minus the hassles.

In the 21st century, however, it seems that everyone wants more flexibility at work. The cry for more realistic and caring conditions is now a rallying call from all but the most out-of-touch throwbacks.

Debbie Klein, the author of the report and the planning director of WCRS, observes: 'I thought I'd be looking at issues that affect women. Instead I was looking at a human issue - the work-life balance - where women lead the way. It's a wake-up call.'

Many younger admen admitted privately to Klein that they want more flexibility at work (and some have even raised the issue with their employers), but it is still women who have gained most ground in this area.

Of course, children - and the general assumption that they are primarily a woman's responsibility - provide the key to negotiations about a more flexible working week. But the need for balance is gradually being established as a principle in its own right, for women and men alike.

Cilla Snowball, the managing director of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, mother of three children, wife of a husband who works full time and employer of a nanny, embodies the new breed of advertising high-flyer.

'I am lucky that I work in a company that shares my values and respects the family,' she says. 'But it is dangerous to generalise. It's tough in some agencies.'

There has been a cultural shift in some agencies. Amanda Walsh, the managing partner of Walsh Trott Chick Smith, says: 'Ten years ago there was a stigma attached to women who left early, but as women's position changes, the position for men is also different. Lots of men who work for me have wives who are doctors on call or who run their own businesses. Marriage is a partnership and kids are a joint responsibility.'

Most agencies, however, still make it difficult for those seeking a balance.

One anonymous account director says: 'I wanted to work four days a week and was told it would be impossible. Then, eventually, it was agreed but only if we didn't tell the client.'

Stevie Spring, chief executive of the More Group, is not impressed by the positive gloss that has been put on the report's findings. 'The industry pays lip service to flexibility but the situation is no better than it was ten years ago,' she says. 'There may be more women on the boards but the boards are bigger. Being on the board is about seniority, it's not about influence or power.'

Rita Clifton, the chief executive of Interbrand and the former executive planning director of Saatchi & Saatchi, finds working for a consultancy suits her better. 'I work just as long hours now,' she says, 'but it's more flexible.'

Clifton was the first woman of seniority at Saatchis to have a baby and go back to work and stay. 'Children don't deprive you of your passion or motivation, but they do lower your threshold for the nonsense of political shenanigans and posturing,' she says.

Aware that the mood is changing, most chief executives publicly espouse enthusiasm for flexible working hours. In private, however, many bosses reported they were 'amazed' that while they had spent the 80s wanting to run an agency, many young people nowadays do not aspire to that. For a new generation, work is no longer their life.

The automatic response to people with this attitude is to dismiss them as slackers. But Larry Barker, the creative director of BMP DDB, says: 'I don't necessarily want people who are driven. I want brilliant thinking.'

It would be pleasing to be able to say that the agencies with the most flexible attitude are always the most successful. AMV and BMP bear out this theory, but there are other agencies, clinging to their sweatshops reputations with pride, that still haunt the UK top 20.

The less forward-thinking agencies are usually dominated by men. But with women increasingly represented at senior management level (22 per cent, up from 16 per cent in 1989), male domination of the top echelons should wither over the next decade and with it the macho culture of ostentatiously long working hours and hard-drinking.

That's the theory, anyhow. But for now, the lack of women at the top is still an issue in an industry where only four women - MT Rainey, Christine Walker, Amanda Walsh and Helen Calcraft - have their names above the door. And they have no obvious female successors.

The issue goes largely unacknowledged by men, only 48 per cent of whom think the industry should make sure that women are better represented in management. On the other hand, 88 per cent of women think something should be done about it.

'It may be easier to get on the board,' Walsh says, 'but there is still a glass ceiling. And look at all the piss-taking WACL gets. But if you get all defensive when people call it CACL, you come across as too feminist.'

Discrimination, in other words, is alive and well, demonstrated by the fact that 68 per cent of men and 74 per cent of women agree that male colleagues are treated with more respect. One respondent said: 'If we lived in the US, there would be lawsuits all over the place.'

The IPA report suggests the development of a mentoring scheme for junior and middle level women, many of whom do not have role models and consequently do not envisage themselves in the most senior positions in the industry.

'We need more conspicuous role models saying it's fine,' Snowball agrees.

But one planner told Klein: 'The women I see at the top are either alone, have husbands with flexible hours or don't spend any time with their children. I don't want to be like that.'

Marjorie Scardino, the chief executive of Pearson Group, recently addressed WACL with the plea: 'I'm fed up of always being tagged the only woman running a FTSE 100 company. Hurry up!'

If more high-calibre women are to stick it out in the advertising arena, the agencies also need to 'hurry up' in providing the right working environment.

And it's not just about attracting women to the industry and keeping them; it's about finding and retaining talent, full stop.


Country                                Proportion

                                        of female

                                    creatives (%)

France                                         35

Australia       Art director                   38

                Copywriter                     30

                Creative director              11

Spain           Art director                   24

                Copywriter                     24

                Creative director              10

Sweden                                         30

Singapore                                      50

Finland                                     47-55


While women have been eeking out some progress in other areas of the industry, the situation in creative departments has actually got worse.

The number of female creatives has fallen in the past five years, so that they now make up only 17 per cent of copywriters and 14 per cent of art directors.

Worse still, it is a purely UK phenomenon. In all other countries the proportion of women creatives is higher than in the UK.

But why? Larry Barker, the creative director of BMP DDB, has put the issue at the top of the agenda during his presidency of D&AD this year. Both Barker and the IPA's report conclude that the laddish atmosphere of creative departments is to blame.

He says: 'It's part of this machismo that we're dragged up from the streets. It's dumb. It may have worked from the 70s to the mid-90s when advertising was the sexiest game in town, but is it always going to be the model?

'Soon enough, people won't be clamouring for us, we'll be clamouring for them - but we won't have the mechanics in place to get them.'

The placement system - where teams hire themselves out to agencies for next to nothing in the hope of getting a full-time job - comes in for most criticism. 'Placement life suits 22-year-old guys,' Barker says.

'Women grow up faster, whereas blokes don't want to grow up at all.'

Big agencies trained graduate creatives until 1979, when Thatcher cut back funding for art colleges unless they provided vocational training.

Many more colleges started running advertising courses and supplied far too many 'trained' creatives, so that the wannabes had to start scrapping for jobs through the placement system.

Those few women who do make it through the placement system have to face a macho environment and be prepared to have their hard work knocked back - usually by a male creative director - day after day.

Patrick Collister, a former creative director of Ogilvy & Mather, believes that women are not as competitive as men. For women, he argues, the daily battle for status and reward - which takes place in a very personal and emotional zone - is fatuous.

'Only advertising has this ludicrous bias against women,' Collister says.

'If you look at the wider creative world, women are at least as good as men.'

Claudia Southgate and Verity Fenner, who created the latest campaign for Levi's Engineered jeans, spent a year trudging from placement to placement before securing a job at Bartle Bogle Hegarty. They found the whole process 'disheartening' but it never occurred to them to give up.

'It's what we wanted to do and the harder we found it, the more we wanted to do it,' Southgate says.

The duo claim not to have been put off by the placement system or the culture of creative departments. 'There is a lad element,' Southgate admits, 'but we're laddy girls. If you didn't go to the pub and join in the banter it would be difficult.'

Despite their nonchalant attitude, they are doing their bit to encourage women into creative departments. They have agreed to appear in a feature in Company magazine because they want to make young women aware of the possibilities.

Most of their peers at St Martin's School of Art went into fashion or design. 'They just don't know about the jobs in advertising,' Southgate insists. 'If they did, more of them would do it.'


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