The year ahead for women

The latest IPA figures show that the gender gap in advertising is narrowing. But we still have a long way to go, and here's what we can do as an industry to help, Lindsey Clay writes.

Lindsey Clay
Lindsey Clay

Oh, God, here we go! Bloody Clay is banging the bloody wimmin drum again. Give it a rest, love."

As many as half of you, dear readers, might see the title of this piece, heave a collective sigh and turn over to read the more interesting article on the year ahead for programmatic native barter insertion, but please bear with me. I need you to read this and you need to read this too.

So, let’s talk about women. Aren’t they great? Being a determinedly upbeat person, I believe there is plenty to be positive about. OK, the pay gap is widening and women in the most senior positions are still disappointingly nowhere near 50 per cent, but we have seen significant improvement in just one year.

This article is not, however, focusing on how we can overcome the challenges of getting women to break through the glass ceiling. On that subject, if you haven’t already, I suggest you read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. It should be required reading for everyone in advertising alongside the complete works of Jeremy Bullmore. This article is about making sure that, when we hold a mirror up to the industry, what we see reflected is a true picture of who is there today rather than who has been there for the past century. I hope that, with your help, we might be able to do something about that in 2015.

Before I kick off properly, I’d like to say thank you to Campaign for taking this issue seriously, for offering me this platform and for committing to do something about it.

Facts first

Let’s look at the facts to start off with. The latest IPA Agency Census reveals that women now make up 25.6 per cent of those in the most senior positions (ie. chairs, chief executives, managing directors and managing partners) – up from 22.2 per cent a year ago. The number of women in other executive management roles has shot up in a year from 29.5 per cent to 37.1 per cent. Overall, women make up 50 per cent of the advertising workforce. We clearly have some way to go but, if 30 per cent is the figure at which critical mass occurs in a group setting, then, on gender, we are there. Women make up 37.1 per cent of executive management positions. That is critical mass.

Let’s also look at diversity in general. The percentage of black, Asian and other ethnic-minority people in agencies has risen from 11.2 per cent to 13 per cent, so some progress there too. Our industry is just about reflective of the diversity of the UK population as a whole – but nowhere near that of most urban centres. In London, for example, the black, Asian and ethnic-minority population is about 55 per cent.

What’s the issue?

It is bothering me more and more that, too many times, I see panels of five at an event with one lone female, or I read an article in which the opinions of four people are sought – all of whom are men.

Sometimes, I mention this to those involved. On one occasion, the chair of a panel of six media men indignantly replied: "But we asked a woman. She turned it down." Just the one? Such tenacity.

If women now make up 37.1 per cent of the senior level of the ad industry, what percentage of women would you expect to find represented in the pages of our trade media, on conference platforms, on awards juries, in lists of influential people and as speakers at industry events?

I’ll answer it for you. I think you might expect it to be around 37.1 per cent; certainly above 30 per cent.

In fact, you probably should expect it to be somewhere between 37.1 per cent (the level of women in senior management positions) and 50 per cent (the level of women in the industry).

This was by no means an exhaustive study, but I had a look at the men-to-women ratio in a number of trade media, articles, events and awards juries in 2014. The average across these categories was 77:23.

Some categories are better than others, but the pattern is similar. If you take this figure as a proxy for the public face of women in our industry, then it turns out we are not even representing the status quo, never mind leading the way for the young people joining the industry today. I haven’t done an equivalent exercise counting the numbers of black, Asian and ethnic-minority people represented, but you can safely assume that would not make edifying reading either.

Diverse businesses are successful businesses, and a lack of role models for women will keep them staring at that glass ceiling

I share this not with the intention of shaming any organisation but to make the point that this is our shared problem. It is easy to imagine that women are represented fairly across the board. But they are not. Full disclosure: at our most recent Thinkbox event, we were also guilty of having a shockingly low percentage of women on stage (and one of them was me). I appreciate that this is not always easy.

Why is this a problem?

We need to represent the industry as it is and should be – not as a "gentlemen’s club", as Janine Green of Havas Media referred to it in a recent Media Week article. It’s important to rep­resent different viewpoints: diverse businesses are successful businesses, and a lack of role models for women will keep them staring at that glass ceiling. We need to stop sending out the signal that the "norm" is overwhelmingly male. It isn’t.

Why is it happening? Quite a lot is unconscious. Because we have seen men for a long time as spokesmen and authority figures, we’re conditioned to see it as the norm, so we don’t notice when women are underrepresented. We would notice it immediately if the situation were reversed.

When I raised this issue, Campaign pointed out that women are often reluctant to contribute to an article or accept a speaking engagement. They often try to delegate it upwards, whereas men generally will not only accept the offer but will badger journalists and conference organisers for an opportunity to speak. Women sometimes turn down these opportunities because they often take the lion’s share of home and family responsibilities – they prioritise their day-to-day work, and the profile-building extra-mile stuff gets sacrificed. For overstretched journalists working to a deadline, it is easy to see why it’s tempting not to go to the effort of asking another three women in the hope that one might accept.

What we should do in 2015

1. Measure progress. We’ve learned from the TV industry’s excellent work to encourage diversity that the first and vital step is to count and publish. I’ve started this, so let’s continue.

2. Set targets. We manage what we measure and, without a target, nothing will change. I would like to suggest a target of 40 per cent but that, across trade media, conferences and juries, any representation of less than 30 per cent is not good.

3. Commit to changing it. Calling all conference organisers and journalists: please try harder. Don’t just accept who is banging the door down.

4. Working parents, not working mums. Men should feel liberated (and be encouraged by employers)to prioritise their family responsibilities just as much as women.

5. Lean in. Calling all women in the industry to say yes. Stop being so timid, modest, committed to your day jobs etc. You have a responsibility to yourself and other women. If you want any help, call me or any other member of the Wacl executive committee. We would be happy to help (see www.wacl.info for contacts).

6. Point it out – politely. When you read an article with six single contributors of one gender, why not mention it? If you attend an event that is unrepresentative, speak up. We all need to act as the industry conscience.

7. If you’re already there, help: register with Wacl. All members of the Wacl executive committee are available to make suggestions to conference organisers and journalists looking for female contributors.

And we’re putting together a register of spokeswomen (you don’t have to be a Wacl member). If you would like to be included, please contact me on lindsey.clay@thinkbox.tv.

If you have made it this far, thank you. I genuinely appreciate it. I hope that, by the end of 2015, we might have made some progress. Let’s get gender off the agenda.

Now, I wonder what the year ahead does hold for programmatic native barter insertion…

Lindsey Clay is the chief executive of Thinkbox and vice-president of Wacl

To read Leigh Thomas, Moray MacLennan and Cindy Gallop's responses to Clay's piece click here