Diageo CMO on what happened after she sent a letter to agencies demanding diversity stats

Syl Saller

Diageo has revealed the overall gender split within the agencies working on its brands after chief marketing officer Syl Saller sent a letter to all of its partners demanding a break down of their diversity and pay-gap statistics.

According to figures, seen exclusively by The Drum, there is a strong representation of women in the leadership teams of Diageo’s ad agency partners – an average of 47%.

However, when it comes to the creative departments, just 30% of women are in the top roles.

Among those agencies that received the request for stats are VMLRY&R (Baileys ad agency), Anomaly (Captain Morgan and Johnnie Walker), AMV BBDO (Guinness), 72&Sunny (Smirnoff) and Carat, which handles the majority of Diageo's media account in the UK and US.

The gender pay-gap data for the roster of agencies is missing. It is understood this due to so many of Diageo’s agencies having fewer than 250 people or not being UK based, where there is a government mandate for reporting accurate figures. This meant it was unable to paint an accurate picture of the pay-gap among the people working on its account.

The data was collected earlier late last year. Saller had previously given individual managers for its brands the autonomy to ask their agencies pointed questions on diversity stats. However, the marketer - and gatekeeper of its £1.8bn global ad spend – was forced to intervenewhen her brand managers were met with “blank faces” from a number of bosses.

Since then, she said the “vast majority” of its agencies have been receptive to her requests and were “happy” to share their statistics as well as the initiatives they have introduced to improve the representation of women at senior levels within their agencies.

“I was really pleased to see that there is a strong representation of women in the leadership teams of our partners – an average of 47%. The proportion of women progressing into Creative Leadership is a real issue in the advertising industry. The IPA figures that women make up just 12% of creative directors in the UK advertising industry show that there is a wealth of top female talent leaving the creative industries that we cannot afford to lose,” Saller told The Drum.

“Whilst our partners were generally well ahead of the IPA figure […] I’ll be looking to see this number improve over the coming years and am convinced that greater diversity in creative leadership leads to better creative output.”

Saller said some agencies had responded by detailing the challenge of not only recruiting but also retaining female talent.

“For me, this underlines the importance of schemes like the Creative Equals ‘Returners’ programme which we are sponsoring,” she said.

Diageo said it has 50 women taking part in the Creative Equals ‘Returners’ scheme, which is backed by the UK Government Equalities Office and designed to support women in the creative industries in the UK as they return to work after a career break of at least 12 months.

“Our next steps will be to share anonymized data back with our partners, share learnings and encourage all our partners to really get behind programmes like Free the Bid and Creative Equals which are driving tangible change.”

‘Diversity in ads can shape culture’

In tandem with revealing the results of her letter, Saller also released a short film about gender balance in advertising ahead of International Women’s Day (shown below).

The film discusses the role of advertising in shaping culture, the historic misrepresentation of women in advertising and strategies and the organisations working to address imbalances behind the camera and in creative departments.

Speaking in it, Ali Hanan, founder of Creative Equals says: “In the creative sector one of the big challenges is that only 12% of creative directors are women. Just as women are stepping up into leadership roles, motherhood, or perhaps caring responsibilities come along and women drop out of the industry.

“Our programme is all about upskilling women and all the things that they need to get back into the industry, that includes digital skills, that includes getting some fresh work in their book, and we're absolutely delighted to have some briefs coming in from Diageo that are going to give them that chance to really flex their creative muscles.”

Diageo was recently recognised in the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index. Last year, it was named by Thomson Reuters as the fourth most inclusive and diverse company in the world and ranked by Equileap as the best company in the UK for gender equality.

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