Earlier this month The Drum revealed its results from the Women in Marketing research which found, amongst many insights, that nearly two thirds (60 per cent) or respondents had encountered some form of sexism within their careers.
Having reported the findings, we asked female bosses from across the industry for their thoughts on the gender divide that prevails within the advertising community.
Debbie Klein, chief executive, Engine Group
Although we’ve still some way to go towards achieving true gender equality, it delights me to see how far we’ve come and how few barriers to women’s success remain in the industry today.
I’m proud to work in an environment that provides young women with so many positive role models – and many more than 10 years ago. You can’t be it if you can’t see it, and in the past few years we’ve seen a significant increase in the appointment of inspirational female leaders, particularly in media agencies, which has been transformational.
The virtuous circle this creates is one of the most powerful ways of encouraging young women to dream big. Creative departments still lag behind and this is where I’d like to see more efforts to celebrate female creativity, such as the Cannes Lionesses.
One key issue that remains is how many talented 30-something women choose to move to freelance or part-time work when they decide to start a family because of the cost of childcare – a problem by no means exclusive to our industry.
We need to find new ways to support and encourage aspirational mothers, especially at a time when their careers should be accelerating.
Sandra Soskic, co-chief executive, DDB & Tribal Worldwide
The biggest barrier is the lack of critical mass.
We need a much larger amount of women in senior positions. More women in positions with decision making power will lead to cultural change, moving from a male dominated view of the world to a more diverse, progressive, and realistic view.
And, this should not be that difficult to solve for the industry, it should simply hire, grow, and promote more female talent.
This starts with the realisation that women are equally talented and creative, and a genuine belief that your business will benefit from a more diverse view of the world.
Victoria Fox, chief executive, Lida
It might sound trite but I would honestly say that your choice of partner can make the biggest difference to a woman’s career.
It is so hard to juggle work and life and there is no doubt that being with a partner that truly understands your work pressures, shares 'life’s admin', and all the crazy stuff that comes with having kids (like 24 hours’ notice to come to school dressed as an octopus), gives you the foundation to fly.
The rest is up to you.
How can the industry help? By recognising that life outside of work can be limiting for women's careers and in response find ways to support them.
Francesca Brosan, chairman, Omobono
There’s a lot written about the barriers to women’s success, and I think Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, is one of the best.
I don’t think the issue is so much about gender, as about children. Companies, and government policy, focuses on maternity (or paternity) leave, but actually the real challenge is when you get back to work and how you balance the commitment to the job with your commitment to your children.
Childcare (and indeed other forms of family support and care) should be tax deductible, after all its employing people, whether they are looking after your children, your house or your aged parents. Why should this come out of your taxed income? Doing this would enable people to pay better wages, help carers off the poverty line and encourage better qualified people into doing the work.
Only when we have proper child care in place across the board will it be possible for enough women to return to the workforce, thereby raising the volume of women who rise to the top.
Rebecca Moody, chief strategy officer, Ogilvy & Mather London
The biggest barrier? Confidence. Evolution has hard-wired women to play 'low status' in the group – we are the pacifiers, the protectors, the carers, by design; which means that faced with, high octane, agentic leadership environments, many of us recoil and recess.
It's not the way we would naturally do business; and we feel we are being judged by a set of values that are not necessarily our own (even though we might be quietly doing a fantastic job).
In the 20 years since I joined the advertising world, I have watched a series of strong, elegant women seemingly effortlessly push our values forward – Cilla Snowball, Karen Blackett, to name just two. It's our responsibility to pluck our own confidence, and sense of worth, from their lead and keep pushing equally powerful female values forward.
Jane Asscher, founding partner, strategy and management, 23red
Women are very well suited to careers in marketing. Female intuition helps greatly with consumer insight, EQ with people management and juggling and organisational skills with the management of ever more complex multi-channel marketing solutions.
Whilst many women enter the industry, historically, few have risen to the very top because of a lack of flexibility, support in the workplace and good role models. Though the situation is improving as marketing employers are offering more flexible working arrangements, promoting diversity, offering mentoring and tailoring professional development programmes to the needs of women.
Vicky Bullen, chief executive, Coley Porter Bell
I am about to commit heresy. The biggest barrier to women’s success is women themselves. Womanly values – nurture, care, community – for all their worth, can hold us back. Many of us don't naturally put our hand up to ask for opportunities and recognition.
It’s not about trying to behave like men in the workplace. Rather it’s about understanding our unique strengths, harnessing them and advocating them, using that self-understanding to give us the confidence to grab opportunities, to promote ourselves and our achievements, to be leaders rather than followers and to truly thrive in our careers.
The industry can help us on a functional level. Of course there shouldn’t be a pay gap, of course there should be more women on boards and more than three per cent of our creative directors should be women. The industry can provide forums to highlight these inequalities, to debate and promote the solutions, perhaps even to suggest ‘legislation.’ But fundamentally the answer lies inside us women.
Miranda Bolter, design director, The Partners
It annoys me to be asked to comment on what it means to be a woman in design. I’ve never read an article where the topic is what it’s like to be a man in design.
A recent survey by this magazine reported on the issues that were important to women in the design and advertising industry; balancing workload, commitment to best practice, staying ahead of trends. Are these any different to the priorities of men? I’d be surprised if they were.
And there’s the rub. Until we involve both men and women in the same debate, as long as we keep segregating, there will always be an issue. The gender pay gap, which is a real problem, won’t be solved until both men and women work together to balance the inequality.
Helen Weisinger, chief marketing officer, Brave and HeyHuman
The biggest barrier for our industry is its unwillingness to embrace diversity overall. It remains imbalanced and while steps are happening, there’s still a giant leap required.
As Cindy Gallop reminded us, we are lucky enough to work in an industry that can impact and shape not just product but socio-culture change, for good.
The default setting is predominantly male and we are at the perfect time for self-examination. Examination to ensure we create communications that tackle gender bias but additionally, the organisations we work at.
We should take a long hard look at our companies and hold a mirror up – is yours reflective of an industry it should be? Is it balanced across the board, does it support working parents and is there gender fair pay.
If not, do something about it.