Creative agencies on women being safe and included, with clear paths of progression

By Ruby Derrick | 8 March 2024
Katie Barclay, Renee Hyde, Robert Stone and Susie Shaw.

The advertising industry has historically been a challenging place for women to advance their careers. But change is coming, industry insiders say. 

In creative agencies, fewer than 10% of creative directors are women, according to recruiters Creative Natives. 

This year, the United Nations theme for International Women's Day 2024 is 'Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress’.

CHEP people & culture director Robert Stone says this year's theme feels right for the times. 

There’s meaningful progress being made in workplaces across the country, including at CHEP Network, he says.

“If we’re to change the fortunes of women in our industry, if we’re going to ensure we’re creating workplaces where they feel safe, included, have clear paths of progression and importantly, can bring their whole self to work, we need to invest,” says Stone. 

CHEP’s trend towards a zero-pay gap continues, and that’s largely driven by doing the simple things well, he says.

The agency benchmarks all positions against industry salary reports, has continued to evolve its parental leave policies to ensure the transition back into the workforce is a smooth one, and has become an accredited member of WORK180. 

WORK180 is a community platform empowering women and marginalised groups with the information they need to make informed career choices, helping them discover workplaces that work for them.

Stone says that returning to agency life after becoming a parent can be a challenge for some, so CHEP is looking to engage in new ways with returning parents by signing up to initiatives like Mums in Ads and formalising a working parents committee.

“To ensure we’re applying creativity beyond client briefs and onto making life better for our most important asset, our people,” he says.

“There’s no silver bullet to getting this right, but we’re taking this year’s theme to heart and investing in our women and our people at large to help them thrive.”

For Howatson+Co’s group managing director Renee Hyde, DE&I isn’t just an acronym for the agency. 

“We want to make a real impact on the industry by ensuring equality and inclusion benefit everyone,” she says.

There are two core programs Howatson+Co have in place to affect this. The first is removing the motherhood penalty.  

“We calculated that every child costs their mum a whopping $156,584 in lost super earnings – so to counter that, Howatson+Company pays superannuation contributions for the entire year of leave – on top of 12 weeks’ parental leave,” says Hyde.

“We also support women as they return from parental leave, offering five days’ pay, for four days’ work (or four for three)."

The second focus, says Hyde, is reversing centuries of under representation. The agency has made a conscious decision to grow and invest in the next generation of female talent, especially in creative and tech which have traditionally been heavily male dominated.

“We accept that this is a long-term plan, and have set recruitment quotas, developed specialist recruitment programs, and invested 6% of our revenue in training, coaching and development opportunities,” says Hyde.

“And our results are clear; in 2023, 56% of our hires and 88% of all promotions were awarded to women. In addition, women make up 61% of our executives within Howatson+Company.”

Hyde says it’s through these initiatives that the agency not only see females being “counted in” but have had the pleasure of watching them accelerate their careers.

“And it accounts to the reason why we have retained 91.2% of our female talent since we opened our doors,” she says.

We Are Social CEO Suzie Shaw says the agency is dedicated to creating a workplace where everyone can flourish, regardless of gender.

“Women play vital roles in our senior positions, with three out of five members of the leadership team being women, and a female chief executive. For us it's not about hitting 'quotas'; it's about fostering a culture of empowerment and equal opportunity,” says Shaw.

With initiatives like paid parental leave for all parents, flexible work policies and ongoing support programs - such as an Employee Assistance Program accessible to team members and their immediate families, We Are Social is breaking down barriers and promoting a more inclusive, supportive environment for everyone, says Shaw.

“I firmly believe that by investing in the success of women, we're driving progress for our entire team and beyond,” she says.

“As a mother of two girls, with a visceral love for the role advertising plays in shaping society, I'm passionate about the idea of bringing more equality to the next generation of industry leaders. Together, we're shaping a future where every voice is heard, every talent is nurtured, and every ambition is within reach.”

Hopeful Monsters CEO Katie Barclay questions how after all this time the industry is still so far behind?

The agency’s leadership team is 50% men, 50% women. The same goes for the wider agency.

“Our gender pay gap is 2% - and that’s favourable towards women,” says Barclay.

"I appreciate I’m in a fortunate position where I get to call the shots, but why should it be any different? Surely it’s about treating each individual as just that - an individual. Who cares about their gender, race or age for that matter?”

It’s about making a commitment to equality and putting your money where your mouth is, says Barclay.

“Our parental leave policy applies to both men and women. Our salaries are benchmarked against the role, not the gender. Every role is part-time negotiable, thanks to the brilliant work of Mums in Ads (and knowing the juggle first-hand),” she says.

"There’s a lot still to be done across our industry to fix inequality in all its forms, but every action is progress. I’d encourage all leaders to stop and look at what they can do to fix this today.”

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