Equality in Advertising is at a Tipping Point

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In business and in life, they say that you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. This is why I was thrilled and honored to be among the invitees to Facebook’s Agency Women’s Leadership Day last week. I was surrounded by amazing women from all walks of life who shared their career experiences and provided practical (and realistic) advice on how to prioritize, balance and push forward on our individual path to success. The day was an inspiring meeting of minds with a powerful message: our collective growth is only the starting point for wider change.

As one of the only female global CEOs (shockingly, still, in our industry), I’m often highlighted as an example that everything is OK equality-wise in AdLand. It isn’t. And with Advertising Week behind us, and the plethora of panels on the topic, I genuinely believe that our industry is at a true tipping point.

While we have seen an increase in discussions around diversity and equality, we have also witnessed an unfortunate number of examples that continue to expose inappropriate or discriminatory behavior. Across our industry, there still is a monumental sense of dissatisfaction with 74% of professionals surveyed by the 4A’s saying that ad agencies are mediocre or worse when it comes to hiring for diversity, and 20% describing them as ‘terrible’. These figures are stark, but not shocking – we’ve known for some time that our industry needs to get better at attracting and nurturing diverse talent. The difference is that our colleagues across all levels are now less willing to collude with outdated systems.

Being one of the leaders committed to walking the talk and having implemented initiatives that are already changing the ratio, here are my three key arguments for why every business should tip the scales in favor of equality and fairness.

Equality Makes Business Sense

Beyond the obvious moral perspective, equality is a business and economic imperative. According to McKinsey Global Institute’s report, The Power of Parity, better gender equality could add a potential $12 trillion to the annual GDP by 2025.

However, the reality is that even when women start out at an equal footing, the story changes at senior levels. In advertising, and especially in creative departments, gender divide has moved from 3% in 2012 to only 11% of women in top roles today. Yet, time and time again we see concrete evidence that diversity in boardrooms results in better performing businesses. Even at Maxus – a young, agile agency with a female CEO and 54% female employees globally – only 24% of our regional or global ExCo members are female. We have made significant strides in improving our numbers and remain tirelessly dedicated to doing so, because we know that greater diversity and equality leads to greater innovation, corporate governance, talent retention, financial growth, and I can personally vouch for the energy and chemistry of a more balanced approach to decision-making.

Empowering Your Employees Empowers Your Consumers

We live in a world where 85% of women make all purchase decisions. At the same time, when it comes to compensation, the gender pay gap remains glaringly present at $10,762 in favor of men annually. Single mothers who work full-time and year-round in the U.S. are paid $22,885 less than fathers who work the same hours. Clearly, there’s more to this than women ‘dropping out’ to have children or because they “lack” vertical ambition.

It’s time for companies to start mirroring the makeup of their consumers and starting paying women their fair share. This is why earlier this year, we launched Walk the Talk at Maxus, an intensive experience designed to level out the playing field and empower women with the tools to progress in their careers. While the feedback was resoundingly positive, the acid test of any equality initiative is direct action. I’m incredibly proud that 15 Maxus women have successfully put their hands up for promotions and have taken serious steps toward career advancement since our first event in April.

Modern Policies Facilitate Choice

The baseline assumption that women should be solely responsible for childbearing doesn’t help them progress. Nor do lingering notions that day-to-day parenting challenges masculinity. Nor do rigid 9-5+ office-bound working structures.

As business leaders, it’s our responsibility to, at the very least, address the bias within our own organizations.

One result of reflecting on our policies at Maxus is that we’ve examined our parental leave. In the U.K., our pilot market on equality – our men and women can both take up to six months paid leave on the arrival of their child. Many Maxus dads are already taking up this option, including our head of futures, and we plan to extend this parental policy into more markets. In the U.S., we now offer extended paid leave to moms with 12 weeks of full pay with options to add in vacation time and part-time transition back, and six fully paid weeks to dads.

Moreover, providing an agile working environment shows your commitment to help not just the parents, but all employees looking to achieve balance and fulfillment in their lives. Facebook sets a great example in this respect, and has brilliantly vocal female leaders such as Sheryl Sandberg, Carolyn Everson, and Nicola Mendelsohn in EMEA, who all walk the talk and inspire other industries to speak up and lean in.

This is why mantras like “embracing our brilliance” by the awe-inspiring Tony Award-winning actor Cynthia Erivo, or “leading with purpose” from Facebook’s Sarah Personette, shared last week struck me as such important reminders of the work that’s still ahead. Businesses need strong strategies to complement these mantras and inspire real change. Gender equality needs significant and meaningful action to shift the dials across all industries. And all of us must do our very best at our own workplaces today in order to change the ratio for future generations in a measurable way. Hope is not a strategy; we need everyone to start walking the talk.

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