Making adland work for women

Rachael Micallef
By Rachael Micallef | 6 March 2015

Female inequality in the workplace is nothing new – and certainly nothing restricted to advertising and media agencies. But in the lead-up to International Women’s Day – 8 March – it is a topic being highlighted in the industry.

Women’s networking group SheSays has created a blueprint of actions for agencies to follow and separately a number of agencies are introducing inititiaves to rebalance the workplace and prevent women – or men – with families being excluded due to commitments outside the office. GroupM is understood to be launching a network-wide strategy which includes a comprehensive maternity and paternity policy designed to be the best in Australia – aiming to outdo even the likes of Google, which is globally renowned for generous policies.

It is thought GroupM will also implement a specific gender equality goal, and encourage flexible working. There are plans to frequently shut down the office for a day at a time, with all employees working from home to create a culture where work-from-home becomes a real option for all staff. A blanket ban on meetings before 10am and after 4pm is also thought to be part of that family-friendly plan.

It’s ambitious, but shows a progressive approach to changing an industry culture in which long and late hours have long been accepted as the norm.

Others – such as M&C Saatchi and OMD – are holding events to mark International Women’s Day, including high-level female speakers coming in to share their challenges and successes. For M&C – which has been traditionally viewed as one of the “old boys’ clubs” of the industry – it is part of a bid to shake off that reputation and promote and inspire leadership for its female staff, which already includes senior figures such as its managing partner Mim Haysom and GM Nathalie Brady, along with new hires Kate Smither and Victoria Curro.

OMD is understood to be having senior level discussions about bringing childcare in-house. Aimee Buchanan OMD managing director says the agency has a “big focus” on keeping women within its walls; citing initiatives including its MotherClub support group for women,its ThinkFresh program, where women in the industry come and speak to the group, and a quarterly networking dinner for women in the business.

Leo Burnett Melbourne CEO Melinda Geertz says keeping women in the industry requires a culture shift away from the idea that flexibility in a service industry “doesn't wash”.

“If we want to hold talented women in our agencies, we have to quit asserting that ‘killer hours’ are the only way to the top. There is a war for talent, and it’s in all of our interests to stop the leaky bucket when it comes to women in their midcareers,” Geertz says.

“I don’t think it’s just an issue of flexibility; I think it’s fundamentally creating a culture that welcomes a different kind of collaboration, dynamic and group conversation.”

Almost a year ago to date, UM CEO Mat Baxter told a room of industry women that the advertising industry was “inherently sexist”. Now, 12 months after that SheSays event, Baxter is markedly more optimistic. “There is awareness that there is an issue and there are more action plans afoot now than there were 12 months ago,” Baxter tells AdNews. “So I think there has been progress made.”

It’s not just an advertising issue. December statistics from the government’s workplace gender equality agency found that across the Australian working landscape women comprise 17.3% of CEOs, 26.1% of key management personnel and 27.8% of other executive or general manager positions.

Figures from the Communications Council from May last year found a relatively even gender split across advertising as a whole. Where the numbers fall down is in creative, where only 23.7% of the workforce are women. In more senior roles that figure drops to 13.5%.

And the problem isn’t just women in creative. Baxter says it is often women – and men – in mid-tier roles in advertising across the board who are driven out by demanding hours and their inability to match that with a family life. “It’s been said before: ‘advertising is a young person’s game’,” Baxter says.

The head of SheSays and senior creative at Ensemble, Yasmin Quemard, agrees with Baxter that progress is happening; noting that it’s just “slow”. But half the issue, she says, is a lack of motivation for adland to change the status quo.
“We need to bring men into the issue and make it a people issue,” Quemard says. “I think for a while there we’ve just kind of relied on goodwill – people will do this because they want to see more women. I think you need to look at it like an advertising campaign; what is in it for them?”

The solution from the SheSays group is the launch of The Working Model, a set of actions for agencies to execute in their own businesses to support women. The blueprint is designed to stop the churn of women in the industry. While it can’t be enforced, Quemard wants the agencies that take up the challenge to be named, thereby holding the ones that don’t accountable.

The one thing that Quemard, Buchanan, Geertz and Baxter all agree on is that the strategies need to be implemented on
an agency-by-agency basis.

“Half of our agency’s leadership team is women, and we all see that as an advantage,” Geertz says. “Nothing will change overnight. This is an issue that’s been around for a very long time and we just have to keep pressing for change. We know the value of talent, and women are half of that pool.”


This article first appeared in the latest print edition of AdNews (6 March). Get your copy on iPad, or in Print.

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