As president of WACL, my theme for the year is speak up; to inspire others, to challenge and change, and to celebrate and praise. There has certainly been no shortage of WACL members speaking up in the last 24 hours.
In yesterday’s blog 'An open letter to WACL - Prove your worth', The Drum's editor Stephen Lepitak posed a couple of legitimate challenges for the WACL membership.
First, how do you foster a spirit of inclusivity when your very existence as an exclusive, elite group will have a tendency to alienate those outside it?
And second, as a single gender club, trying to effect change, how do you make your message broad enough and relevant enough to bring those outside of your particular constituency and most particularly the men of the industry along with you?
These are both interesting questions. They are also fair challenges and worthy of debate.
What was also clear from his blog was that neither Stephen nor the people who had talked to him were entirely clear about what WACL is and does. I’m sure he’s got a much better idea now given that people have made no bones about telling him.
But, I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify some of what WACL is about before I return to those all-important challenges.
Who and what is WACL?
WACL is a 93-year-old club for the most senior women in the advertising and communications industry. It’s not a movement. It’s not an association. It’s not open to anyone to join. In that respect it’s no different from many other clubs in the marketing communications industry.
What is different about WACL is the huge amount of money raised for charity every year, the programme of initiatives designed to inspire and encourage young women in the industry and the commitment we make to change the industry for the better on issues around gender and diversity.
What also marks it out is the fact that it is a women-only club and we will make no apology for this as long as some fairly basic things are still missing such as: equal pay (the pay gap is currently getting wider) and decent representation at senior level (currently women occupy 25 per cent of the most senior positions which is disappointing given that at entry level, women make up 57 per cent of the intake).
Five things to know about WACL
1. We have raised more than £1.35m for charity over the last 10 years, half of which goes to NABS to support (gender neutral) industry-wide initiatives. WACL is one of NABS' most significant donors and a close partner. It would not be able to continue to offer the support it does to the whole industry without the financial contribution from WACL. What other industry clubs offer support like this?
2. In 'Gather', we organise one of the most inspiring training events of the calendar for young women (400 young women once a year) plus a programme of Gatherings (five events this year which will reach another 800 young women). Plus, another two speed mentoring events (another 200 women).
3. We run the Future Leaders Award to offer 90 per cent funding for leadership training for young women in the industry to try and encourage more of them to reach senior positions. 88 young women have benefited from £150,000 of training help over the last 10 years. We do not offer this opportunity to men because we do not have a problem within our industry of men reaching senior positions.
4. We are focused on working to remove the barriers to equality. We accept that equality is for everyone, and that diversity and inclusion are not just about gender. So, we were keen to support the new LGBT group in advertising set up by Scott Knox of the MAA, Pride AM, inviting him to come and speak at our recent president’s dinner and offering him a platform. Scott has said publicly that WACL was, in part, his inspiration for starting Pride AM. Are other clubs and organisations supporting him too? It would be great if they did.
5. WACL members are doing all this on top of their demanding day jobs. No member is being paid for it. It’s all voluntary. They do it because they want to help others and make the industry better.
Which brings us back to the challenges. Both the issues raised are ones that we have spent time discussing and debating.
We recognise that there are a lot more senior women reaching the top of the industry now than in previous years. The last thing we would ever want to do is make them feel unwelcome and we are working on some of the logistical challenges of expanding our membership. We are actively recruiting more creative women into the club as they, more than any other group, need our support.
We are also deeply immersed in the topic of how to bring men along with us. We can only succeed in partnership with the men in our industry. At this year’s Gather we invited two fantastic men in the shape of Tom Knox and Steve Hatch onto the stage to discuss the challenges the industry faces. I hope they didn’t feel belittled or excluded. But, ask them.
If you look at the comments under yesterday’s blog, you will see that there are plenty of people outside the club who are very positive about their relationship with WACL. Clearly, not everyone feels the same and I’m sorry that Stephen’s contacts didn’t feel confident enough to talk without the cloak of anonymity.
But, consistent with my theme, I would urge them to speak up. Please email me on Lindsey.email@example.com. WACL can’t solve the problem of diversity and inclusion on our own. It is also true that we would like to do a lot more. We certainly don’t profess to have all the answers. So, tell me or any other member what you think we can do better. We promise to get our hands…even dirtier.
Lindsey Clay is president of WACL. She tweets @lindseyclay