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Pay Gap Agencies Agency Models

Lack of pay gap transparency could hold back industry equality efforts


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

March 8, 2023 | 8 min read

Though holding companies are changing their approach, none of the six biggest agency groups in advertising currently publish their worldwide gender pay gaps.

A fistful of dollars

Which big ad agencies measure their gender pay gaps? / Unsplash

This International Women’s Day, we’ve seen a parade of brand activations from companies eager to demonstrate their commitment to gender equality. But promises, pledges and messages of support come up short when compared with the lack of equitable treatment in one of the areas it matters most – money.

Looking at the gap between men’s and women’s average pay is one of the most effective and direct ways of measuring how fairly an organization treats its female staff. In the UK, that information is readily available for most companies of a certain size. But piecing together even a basic industry-wide picture of pay equality is more difficult.

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We asked WPP, Dentsu, Omnicom, Publicis Group, Havas and Interpublic (IPG) to share data on their global gender pay gap – but in the first five cases, their spokespeople confirmed that they don’t collect any pay gap data on a global basis. Publicis Groupe, we understand, expects to begin analyzing and publishing its gender pay gap on a global basis later this year.

Of the six biggest firms in advertising, only IPG currently analyses the gender pay gap across its global operations. A spokesperson for the holding company told The Drum: “Based on our analyses to date, there were no findings of widespread pay inequalities. Any individual anomalies that have been identified have been corrected.”

And although it uses an “independent external consultant” to carry out that analysis, we’ll have to take the company at its word, because it doesn’t publish the median percentage difference between average male and female compensation.

From the data we do have to hand, we know that there’s a significant gender pay gap present in advertising agencies. In Britain, the government mandates that companies with over 250 employees publicly share a breakdown of their gender pay gap. That’s the data behind the gender pay gap bot you’ve likely seen gatecrashing brand activations on Twitter and it’s how we know that men at advertising agencies are paid on average 15.5% more than women (3.5% more than the UK-wide average).

Using a collated set of the most recent figures (for the 2021-22 financial year; new data will be released in April), we can see that WPP and Dentsu had a closer pay gap than the industry at large and that Publicis, Cheil and IPG’s British agencies exceed it.

Agency 2021-22 pay gap %
Cheil 20.2
Publicis 17.7
IPG 16.2
Omnicom 15.7
WPP 13.85
Dentsu 13.8
Havas -3

That data only gives us a limited picture, however. The biggest ad firms don’t have equal numbers of staff in the UK – WPP, for example, has thousands more employees in Britain than its rivals; Havas has only one business with enough British staff to qualify for the reporting threshold.

Most indie agencies, and plenty of network-owned agencies, have fewer than 250 staff, so whole swathes of the adland economy escape scrutiny altogether (a problem that could deepen if the UK government were to follow through on suggestions it raises the staff threshold to 500).

In France, a different framework is used – companies are given a weighted score based on the average gender pay gap, the gender gap between pay increases, maternity leave returnees and the number of women among an organization’s top 10 positions. The French holding companies Publicis and Havas have both reported scores between 75 and 99 for each of the agencies in their home market. The system recognizes a wider range of policies but doesn’t mandate that companies publish their pay gaps (and similar to UK data, only provides a snapshot of a single market).

Another way of examining material equality at ad agencies is to look at who occupies leadership positions. In the UK, the lack of women in senior roles right across the economy is the biggest factor behind the gender pay gap, because pay is so much higher for business leaders than for less senior positions.

At WPP, which has been highlighted by Bloomberg and the FTSE for its progress on gender equality, a spokesperson informed us that women make up 56% of the group’s overall workforce and 52% of managers – but only 39% of ‘executive leadership’ roles. There’s a similar situation at Havas, where 57% of staff and 54% of managers are women but only 43% of CEO or president-level positions are held by female staff. At Publicis, 42.5% of leadership roles are held by women (the company expects to improve this to 45% within two years).

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Of the agency groups we spoke to, only IPG has a situation approaching global parity: 51% of leadership roles across its global network are held by women. Omnicom’s ratio is even better – 52.6% of its leaders are women – though its data only covers staff in the US. A spokesperson for Dentsu said the company doesn’t have a collated picture of gender representation among its leadership.

A gender balance in the C-suite that reflects the demographics of the industry at large would be a big indicator that a company was on its way to achieving equality. But it’s hard to imagine how any organization can make headway on equality without first calculating its current pay gap. And for the ad industry at large to make progress, its biggest companies need to act in a more transparent way – and publish that information.

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