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International Women’s Day: agency leaders on tackling bias, inclusivity and diversity


By Sam Anderson, Network Editor

March 8, 2022 | 7 min read

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day – a day intended as a celebration, but increasingly mired in arguments about tokenism, co-option, corporatism and ‘pinkwashing.’ What’s clear in those criticisms is the continuing need for genuine initiatives toward gender equality. We asked experts from The Drum Network what initiatives truly make a difference, pushing past tokenism toward meaningful year-round change.

4 women linking arms

Women from The Drum Network on tackling bias, inclusivity and diversity / Vonecia Carswell via Unsplash

Sophie Brooks, managing director, Tug Toronto

At Tug we have women leading from the front, holding regional managing director and head of department roles across our global offices. We’re proud of our female trailblazers, but acknowledge the fact that more is required to achieve true equality.

Companies must build female talent from the ground up, including women of color and women of varying sexual orientation; to invest in them early and support them as they rise through the ranks.

More than this, recruitment should take place beyond businesses’ comfort zones. This might mean hiring women from underprivileged areas and providing internships to candidates outside of the city. I’m currently working on an initiative that will offer internships to Indigenous Canadians and immigrants. I hope to provide female candidates from a more diverse range of backgrounds the opportunity to work with Tug, and for us to have the opportunity to learn from their skills and talent. We’ll aim to translate as many of these internships as we can into full-time hires.

Sarah Neblett-Lindo, global HR director, Croud

The tangible initiatives should start with putting your money where your mouth is. Bolster your rhetoric with meaningful action.

Start with the basics: level up on pay and opportunity. Women have not spent years qualifying in roles of expertise and know-how to be paid a fraction for equal work of equal value. There remain instances where there’s a gross disparity that speaks to organizations’ character and who they attribute value to.

Transparency (and consequent action) around pay builds trust in the business ethos and culture, and demonstrates an intention to get it right. Of course, there will be instances of tokenism, but there are also times when deliberate intention is required because sadly we are not starting on a level playing field. If you are qualified to hold that position and you get to the table, it is your obligation to pull up a seat for the woman behind you.

Charlie Glynn, UK people director, M&C Saatchi

It’s the combination of bold actions over time that will bring about change. The biggest change will come from senior leaders adopting a mindset of female allyship and committing to personal change and responsibility to build an inclusive workforce where women can thrive.

From driving self-awareness and understanding among our senior leaders, helping them to appreciate difference as well as the systemic challenges and blockers that face women daily in their careers, through to ensuring they understand the importance of demonstrating empathy and constantly working to mitigate their own gender biases and biases within their teams.

We’ve recently invested in an Inclusive Leadership Programme in partnership with Included, a thought leader in DE&I, to help 20 of our most senior leaders drive inclusive behaviors and commit to meaningful change. We believe action for gender inequality will have the most significant and powerful impact if it starts from the top.

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Victoria Aspinall, strategy director, CreativeRace

Raising equality is so much more than finding a sticking plaster. It’s not just about equal pay and positive discrimination (although these are important too). It’s about taking a step back and identifying with open and honest eyes where the real blockers are. And this can often be hard to hear.

The agencies that do this well understand and support the challenges women face every day and bake this into everything they do.

This means accepting we often have unconscious or implicit bias, so implementing blind interviewing processes; understanding that women are often primary caregivers, so providing a flexible workplace that supports women to work around where (and when) they need to be for their children; being aware of the natural career blockers and stalling points women often face in their 30s (such as maternity leave); and proactively creating policies to support and encourage them and their ongoing development.

Not all of this is easy, or without cost. But the agencies that are leading the way face into these underlying challenges head-on, making the necessary sacrifices to move the needle.

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Content created with:

Tug Agency

Tug is a performance driven, global digital marketing agency, optimised to grow ambitious brands, through the smart combination of data, media, content and technology.


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Croud is a global, full-service digital agency that helps businesses drive sustainable growth in the new world of marketing. With a rich heritage in performance,...

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M&C Saatchi Group

We are a creative company with five specialist Divisions, connected through data, technology and culture, to deliver Meaningful Change for clients.

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When you've been in the business of marketing since 1978, and supported clients of every size and from every sector, you gain a profound understanding of what they...

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