Do women over 30 “disappear” from adland?

Rachael Micallef
By Rachael Micallef | 19 February 2015
SheSays audience at an event in 2014.

Women in advertising are moving client-side or dropping out of the industry altogether when it comes time to start a family, according to women's networking organisation SheSays head Yasmin Quemard. But the group is pushing away from agency rhetoric about gender equality and pushing for action as a priority in the new year.

Quemard, who also works at IPG agency Ensemble as a senior creative, is working on an initiative as part of SheSays called The Working Model, which agencies can implement into their own businesses to create a more supportive environment for employees who want to start families. While it will support all would-be parents irrespective of gender, it's aimed at helping women who tend to bear the costs to their careers in having children.

“It's a blueprint for agencies to actually be able to make changes, so that it becomes more accessible and becomes a better working place for people over 30,” Quemard said.

“When you look at agencies they have a striving kind of junior to mid pool of female talent, but then it starts to drop off in those mid to senior roles. Women are choosing to leave because the option to become a mother and carry on working just seems too difficult. They’re either looking to go client side or just leave altogether.”

Quemard said the model is up to the “think-tank stage” of development and said the group is getting representatives from agencies involved so they can feel like “ambassadors of change”. While Quemard can't force agencies to implement the blueprint, her ambition is to create it a public forum or presentation so that agencies can be accountable

“I think for a while there we've just kind of relied on good will – people will do this because they want to see more women,” Quemard said.

“I think you need to look at it like an advertising campaign; what is in it for them?”

Director of branding agency Bellman, Emelye Lovell agreed the issue within agencies tends to be a cultural one. She said the level of overtime work in creative agencies can become a struggle for any individual who is a parent, but itunfairly targets women who traditionally take on more of society's unpaid caring roles.

“Women do not vanish from the industry, it's no mystery where they go,” Lovell said. “They exit the workforce en masse to create the next generation of humans.”

“And then they are punished for it as they watch their career aspirations fade with every child's birthday cake they perfectly decorate.”

But the other issue can be self-promotion. Bec Susan Gill, who used to work at PR firm Weber Shandwick and now works in digital said that she feels like “advertising is a field where the most dominant, persuasive Type A people rise to the top.”

Lovell said that this is another barrier for women that requires a fundamental shift by individual agencies.

“In my opinion, the value system of many agencies sees ego and reputation at the top, and equality, family and fairness are all secondary,” Lovell said. “Women who wish to have children really are forced to choose one or the other.”

Lovell's sister, former VP of digital at Weber Shandwick in the US, Jayde Lovell, said she believes that many of the barriers to change in the industry are legacy issues.

“The same people who were starting their careers during the Mad Men era are now the ones at the very top of the industry,” Jayde Lovell said.

“Sometimes change only takes place 'one retirement at a time' and I think that's exactly the case with advertising. Hopefully today's younger generation, both men and women, will expect greater equality as they rise in their careers.”

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