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Why women should know their place – at the top

Patricia McDonald

In a world of increased competition and diminished attention, breakthrough ideas are an agency's only source of sustainable advantage.

But breakthrough ideas don’t come from hiring the same old people to work in the same old ways. Steve Jobs (the child, lest we forget, of Syrian immigrants) didn't build the most valuable brand in the world by urging people to “Think Homogemous”. Yet there are more men named John (or Dave) leading FTSE 100 companies in the UK than there are women.

Embracing difference has never been more important to our industry. The days of the solitary genius are gone. Creativity today is about the collision of different disciplines: artists and technologists, fashion designers and data architects, behavioural scientists and product strategists. It is about hybrid talents and hybrid teams, working in nimble and collaborative ways.

Beyond the creative industries, senior executives across all industries are beginning to understand the business value of a diverse workforce. In a Forbes survey, 85 per cent of senior executives agreed that diversity is a key driver of innovation.

Yet, as many of us know, just three per cent of creative directors are women. Looking more broadly, just 25 per cent of senior advertising and marketing roles are filled by women. There are many and complex reasons for this of course.

One important reason though is aspiration-a sense of possibility and opportunity. A recent study by the Lean In organisation revealed that at every level, women are less likely than men to say they want to become a top executive. They simply don’t imagine themselves in those roles. There is, as Lean In put it, an ambition gap.

It's easy to understand why. Every woman in the industry has at some point been the only woman in the room, the only women on the panel, the only woman in the business lounge. It can be difficult at times like that to feel there is truly a place for you at the top of the industry. Women are significantly less likely than men to describe themselves as ambitious, and when others call them ambitious, it can come loaded with negative connotations not present for men.

This is where the SheSays Awards come in. At the heart of the awards is a simple but powerful thought: I know my place. The idea takes the misogynist old notion that women should know their limits and turns it on its head, celebrating women who are confident in their place as industry leaders. It encourages young women to imagine their future place in the industry, to accept no limits to their imagination.

The Awards champion successful and ambitious women at every stage of their careers, from students to established creative talents to inspirational female leaders. They make successful and ambitious women more visible and in doing so they help other women see themselves in those roles. In doing so, we hope they can start to close the ambition gap and help more women see – and proudly say – that their place is at the top.

Patricia McDonald is chief strategy officer at Isobar

The SheSays Awards are open for entries now (deadline 12 October), with The Drum Woman of the Year category open for nominations until EOP on Wednesday 7 October. Find out more and enter or nominate at the SheSays Awards website.

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Patricia McDonald

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