Inside JWT's plan to address its 'terrible' gender pay gap & 'boys' club' reputation

JWT London: a Knightsbridge boys' club

After disclosing an eye-watering median gender pay gap of 44.7%, J Walter Thompson London has accelerated plans to readdress both the salary disparity and its reputation as a “Knightsbridge boys’ club” through a programme dubbed ‘Don’t tell me, show me’.

Yesterday (16 May) saw creatives from the agency made a very public apology for the figures, which were the worst of all WPP’s agencies. Its mean and median gender pay gaps were reported as 38.8% and 44.7% respectively, numbers its executive creative director, Lucas Peon, described as “really, really horrible”.

“In the World Cup of sucking at pay gap numbers, we made the final,” he said.

Jo Wallace, JWT’s creative director, admitted that the agency’s reputation was already one of a “Knightsbridge boys’ club” where “white, straight men create above-the-line advertising” even before the stats were published in March.

Wallace was drawn to the challenge of turning this reputation around when she joined from Publicis London in October, however said the gender pay gap was a “rocket in the arse” to accelerate the diversification of the staff base.

“For a while now JWT has been employing new, fresh female talent,” she said, explaining the recruitment of more junior women to be a factor that “compounded” the figures.

“But what’s important is making sure this pipeline for fresh female talent doesn’t spring a leak, and it’s really vital to do whatever it takes to keep them in the business and support them rising from the top.”

The co-ordinated internal plan to address diversify JWT has been labelled ‘Don’t tell me, show me’.

Implemented highlights from the strategy include:

  • Unconscious bias training for all staff
  • Pioneers Programme, which has removed the need for employees to have a university degree
  • Blind recruitment (the practice of removing information identification details, such as gender, from job applications)
  • Female quotas at interview stage for every creative and tech role (at least one woman our of three on each shortlist)
  • LeaderShe – a three-day, female leadership training programme for senior JWT employees across Europe.
  • A scholarship designed to attract more female creatives
  • Young Tribes, designed to inspire girls and young women to learn about the industry
  • An ‘enhanced’ maternity and paternity policy
  • JWT Family – a focus group made up of JWT parents that advises on creating a better work-life balance

Other plans in the pipeline include:

  • The creation of a Female Future Leaders programme
  • Targeted development schemes to help women advance into senior positions
  • Additional diversity and inclusion workshops
  • The creation of a ‘diversity working group’ to represent minority groups based on gender, race, sexuality and disability in management decisions
  • Better internal promotion of job vacancies
  • The use of gender neutral copy in all recruitment campaigns
  • The stipulation that flexible working arrangements are available to all candidates at point of hire

Wallace added that each and every strategy was underpinned by the ethos of “deeds not words”, while Peon stressed that the entire leadership team had made a conscious decision to view the gender pay gap “crisis” as an opportunity.

“When these numbers came out you can obviously imagine the climate in our agency,” he said. “We all got in a room and said, ‘We can either get pissed off at each other and grow apart, or we can get pissed off at the reality and grow together’.”

JWT has opted for the latter, but it’s only next years’ gender pay gap figures that will prove its success. The reversal of its “boys’ club” reputation , on the other hand, will be harder to measure.

Peon and Wallace were speaking at Creative Equals' event #CELeaders

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