We tackled transparency but not diversity

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 29 June 2017
Rosie Baker AdNews editor

Over the last 24 hours, I’ve been having conversations and reading all the comments surrounding the lack of women on our speaker line-up and weighing up my response.

I appreciate and share the frustration in this area, and I think it's right for us to be called out on it. I mentioned it myself in my introduction to the day and we actually flagged it ourselves a month ago because we knew that it was an issue. Here’s a link to it.

I agree about the need for diversity, and that an all male panel is not the kind of representation we want. But I do think it's a shame that the great content and the debate from the the event is being overshadowed. The high level debate that was had about a topic as complex and important to the industry was impressive. 

It can't be underestimated just how hard it was to put together an event on this topic. A phenomenal keynote in NAB CMO Andrew Knott. Facebook, Google, GroupM, Omnicom, Allure Media, News Corp, Integral Ad Science, The Guardian, Bohemia and Slingshot, American Express and IAG is a strong line up from holding companies, digital players, independent agencies, ad tech payers and clients.

What we wanted was the top companies and the top executives to talk about transparency, and what we got was Australia's top companies and top executives talking about transparency. We know that diversity was an issue, but we made the decision on the speakers we had. That they were all men, says what we already know about the Australian media industry, it’s dominated by men. In future, we will be more forceful about the representatives put forward and ensuring better balance, but we will always want the best people for the job.

It deserves to be discussed, absolutely. We have a responsibility in this area and it's one that I, and AdNews, take seriously. We didn’t tackle diversity and we're not hiding from it or shrugging our shoulders. You won’t see an all-male panel planned for one of our events in future, but it's bigger and more complex than that and the issue goes much deeper than our event.

Another female speaker due to be on the first panel pulled out. It still wouldn't have been a very balanced panel but slightly better. At our media summit in May, one of our female speakers pulled out on the day and the replacement her company sent was male. Sometimes it's out of our control.

The event was about transparency. It is incredibly hard it is to get anyone to speak publicly about the topic of transparency - that was a difficult starting point for one. The fact that we had 10 senior execs from the companies that we did all able to talk publicly and candidly about the topic was a feat in itself.

For any event or public speaking commitment, frequently women say no, men however, rarely do. If women continue to say no, for whatever reason, it is hard to ever break the cycle. We do need to do more - but it isn't easy.

A number of women that were approached for this and events in the past have said they don't want to be “token female” on a panel. To be clear, the invite is never to be a 'token female'. Anyone we invite to speak is invited because their input and professional perspective is valued. We wouldn’t ask anyone that we didn’t think was the right person/company to participate.

There is a lack of women willing to step up. They are there but they are few and far between, There's a reason that women such as News Corp's Nicole Sheffield,  Facebook's Ellie Rogers and Mindshare CEO Katie Rigg-Smith are so frequently on speaker line-ups, and it's because they are among a small group of high profile women that do say 'yes'.

That's something that can't be fixed overnight, but that has to be tackled more broadly, making more women comfortable in this arena.

Another issue that we face is that if we approach a company to put someone forward rather than a specific individual, nine times out of 10, the person they put forward to represent them is male.

Facebook’s director of brand Naomi Shepherd and I discussed the issue on the day, and she has been vocal on social following the event. She presented a sponsored session at the event but Facebook was a speaker on one of the panels. The person they put forward was Tim Egan - a male.

Omnicom Group’s representative was Kristiaan Kroon, not Aimee Buchanan, CEO of OMD, who would have been a great speaker but Kroon is the chief investment officer, so the appropriate person.

GroupM’s Venessa Hunt would have been a great speaker on the panel but GroupM’s chosen representative was John Miskelly. He's the group's chief digital officer and the right person for the panel.

Integral Ad Science also raised the diversity ahead of the event, and mulled whether they would put forward a female speaker. It would have meant flying someone in internationally, and they decided their local MD James Diamond was the best person for it. And he was, offering his local market knowledge.

All our speakers were there because they had a strong perspective on the topic and I can't emphasise enough how hard it is to get people to talk on such a controversial topic at all.  

Sarah Wyse, chief revenue officer at Allure Media and who runs the Wyse Women programme, was also at the event and has written a piece about it. She makes good points. Seeing male only panels does perpetuate the issue in our industry that there aren’t enough senior women at a lot of the big media companies.

Allure Media CEO Jason Scott was on the panel, and we approached him directly because of his perspectives on the topic. They raised the lack diversity internally, and in an effort to address it, Jason invited Wyse, whose background is in ad tech, to take Allure’s spot and represent the company, she declined.

Yes, there are senior women that we didn’t ask. But many of those we did, declined, for a multitude of reasons.

It’s also worth noting, that while I really do feel strongly about getting more female representation across everything we do, diversity doesn't just mean gender. It’s well documented that the advertising and media industry lacks diversity overall.

Our panels had diversity of perspectives and so while we did tackle transparency on the day, we failed to tackle gender diversity.

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