In March of this year, I first learned of the “Fearless Girl,” a statue of a little, yet defiant, girl facing Wall Street’s “Charging Bull” statue. This defiance was aimed at the financial industry’s exclusion of women. They then quickly and quietly settled allegations that it paid female employees less than male colleagues.
More recently, Hollywood and the world were rocked by the allegations against Harvey Weinstein. This is a man who openly supported this country’s first female presidential candidate but then apparently had no problem sexually harassing and assaulting women throughout his career. And right now, you can add more names to this list: Al Franken, Louis C.K, Roy Moore and on and on…
The government, too, is full of contradiction when it comes to talking about female empowerment but then returning some women’s freedoms to a backward era. Resistance was showcased at the Women’s March in January and again last month when nearly 3,000 women gathered in Detroit to take on these issues and change the narrative. Not just through thoughts and prayers – but to create lasting change through action.
Seattle elected its first female mayor in over a century. Virginia elected the first-ever openly transgender state legislator. Charlotte elected its first-ever female African-American mayor. Yet our work has only just begun.
And this past Election Day, change started to show. Women came out in droves — as voters, candidates and organizers. Seattle elected its first female mayor in over a century. Virginia elected the first-ever openly transgender state legislator. Charlotte elected its first-ever female African-American mayor. Yet our work has only just begun. Because when women are treated equally, championed, elevated and supported, the rewards are felt throughout an organization, business and even, the global economy.
Our own industry is also overwrought with contradictions. There has been progress with organizations like the 3% Conference, championing creative women and people of color. And some clients are leading by example and holding their agencies accountable. For example, in 2016, HP’s CMO, Antonio Lucio, shared a call to action with all of HP’s advertising and public relations agencies insisting that they improve their workforce makeup by hiring more women and minorities. But how can we be happy with 29% of creative directors being female when over 50% of communication is directed at women? Cindy Gallop has been a force in her own right: calling on our industry to speak up and expose those who tarnish it. Yet men who have been called out still sit in their offices or are moved to another floor.
But how can we be happy with 29% of creative directors being female when over 50% of communication is directed at women?
Despite the industry at large admitting there is a problem, we still need to answer the hard questions and take a look at the infrastructure in place within our own workplaces. The challenge many agencies are facing today is truly answering the question of how do we get there? From my experience, both in the agency world and looking at other industries as examples, here are steps agencies must take to create real change:
- Encourage industry participation. Invite women – and men — to participate in the conversation, even beyond our industry. There are opportunities such as the 3% Conference, Adcolor, Free the Bid and The Female Quotient that will help drive more engagement, ideate more solutions, and inspire new ways to push your agency towards a more diverse and inclusive organization. Encourage your people to march and have a voice in their community.
- Enforce a “That’s Not Okay” culture. Call out gender biased language at all levels. Beyond official anti-harassment policies, it is incumbent on agencies to ensure their workplace environment allows people to voice their concerns, share feedback and bring issues to light without backlash.
- Empower the future generation with the right information and tools. Help to prevent workplace harassment by sponsoring educational programs, like the U.N. Women initiative “He for She,” in ad schools or at colleges.
- Teach our leaders. Develop industry-wide programming with UNESCO for Gender Equality Policies and Practices, as they have for teachers. Create a step-by-step guide to make it easy to follow and adopt. Making Unconscious Bias training mandatory is a good start.
- Help our employees through transitions in their lives. Even though we advertise for our clients about supporting mothers, our industry isn’t hearing the message. Tech companies are adopting policies to allow women coverage to freeze their eggs, generous maternity policies, and re-entrance programs/tools like Preconceive. Some companies are pioneering “returnships” for people with career breaks to make a comeback. We need to consider more opportunities like these as economic evidence suggests that supported parents are better employees.
The advertising world is at an inflection point and this is the time to start highlighting the positive contradictions that may be happening in our industry. As an industry, we have to move forward together to make this community an inclusive, welcoming environment for all talent. Each voice that speaks out will help empower others to push forward and bring about the change we all want to see.