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Digital marketing: what does a progressive agency culture for women look like anyway?

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Women have long been underrepresented within the digital marketing world. / Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.

It’s no secret that women have long been underrepresented within the digital marketing world, with men often outnumbering women in both agency and in-house environments. Even when women do make it into the industry, they’re less likely to be directors, managers or department heads than their male counterparts. The reasons for this disparity are complex and although things are certainly improving, real systemic change is required before the industry is truly as equal as it should be.

With twelve men in the Run2 office compared to just seven women, it may initially seem as though we’re in no position to talk about gender equality at work. However, one topic that often comes up in conversation, whether we’re interviewing a potential candidate or pitching to a prospective client, is that although we have almost twice as many men in the office as women, women make up many of our top positions: our operations director, the two most senior members of our digital marketing team, our head of design and our content manager are all women. This isn’t to say we don’t have any male managers or department leaders - their role is integral to the company’s success - but it’s certainly rare for the majority of female employees to be in senior positions.

As proud as we are that we’ve managed to authentically build a gender diverse team with a number of women in senior positions, it feels strange to pat ourselves on the back for something that should be the norm. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that our staff makeup is rare. Rather than being the result of a conscious choice, we think the gender diversity is a result of our office culture and commitment to building a flexible and understanding workplace.

A more flexible workplace

In many digital marketing agencies, there’s a real issue with ‘presenteeism’. This is something we work hard to avoid - measuring success by output as opposed to the number of hours a worker is sat in their chair.

We work hard to keep everyone’s workloads manageable and there’s no pressure to stay late every night or sacrifice our work/life balance in the process. While this aspect of our culture benefits both our male and female employees, equality experts believe it holds the key to closing the gender pay gap.

Karen Mattison, chief executive of Timewise says: “The traditional workplace was designed for a family structure in which one person stayed at home and another went out to work. This is no longer the case for the majority of UK households. Employers need to catch up with the needs and aspirations of the modern workforce, or risk getting left behind.”

We’re also open to employees working from home if necessary, whether they’re struggling to get childcare for the day or they’re waiting in for someone to fix the boiler.

An understanding approach to employee health

One thing we're reluctant to do is introduce policies that have an unintentionally detrimental impact on the very people they're supposed to support. Although we see the benefits of policies such as ‘Period Leave’ and we respect the forward-thinking companies willing to embrace these ideas, we also appreciate that there can be consequences from singling certain groups of people out.

Eden King, associate professor of psychology at Texas Rice University, explains: "Offer flexible leave policies for all workers in your organisation, so that people can take leave when they're sick, no matter what the reason. That puts everybody on the same footing, whereas a policy that singles out a particular group as needing extra care, as being somehow weaker, does have a potential for backlash and perpetuation of gender stereotypes."

In addition to offering employees flexible working hours, we also have a relatively informal approach to doctors’ appointments and sick days.

Our operations director, Hannah Ward, has been heavily involved in this aspect of Run2’s culture. She says: “When it comes to anything to do with employee health, or their family and home life, I always think how I’d like to be treated: I wouldn’t want to be made to feel guilty for booking a doctor’s appointment. I also think it’s really important to be aware that people have a personal life: they may have an ill family member for example, and if that was me I would want to know I could be at home with them, or at a hospital appointment, if needed. We try hard to extend that to all our employees and don’t make them jump through hoops at what can already be a stressful or worrying time.”

Generous maternity leave

It’s well publicised that one of the biggest obstacles standing in between women and career progression is motherhood and workplaces that overlook parents’ needs. We’re hopeful that our flexible working policy has the potential to make a real difference to parents but in addition, we recently introduced a rewarding maternity leave policy.

Hannah adds: “We offer enhanced maternity and paternity packages. Whereas the statutory maternity policy entitles female employees to 90% of their average weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks then statutory maternity pay (£145.18) for the next 33 weeks, we offer 90% pay for the first 8 weeks, 50% for 12 weeks, and then 19 weeks at standard maternity pay. For Paternity, we have enhanced the policy to two weeks off at full pay. We want to support our employees at a time that can be difficult financially, demonstrate to them how valued they are, and hopefully ensure that they don’t feel they have to choose between their career and their personal life.”

More to do

Although we’re proud of our success in nurturing a culture that has enabled women to progress their careers, we recognise that more work needs to be done to achieve true equality. In particular, we acknowledge that there is a lack of racial diversity across creative industries and our company is, at the time of writing, no exception. In 2016, BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) employees made up just 11% of people working in the creative industries.

This is something we’re passionate about addressing as we believe that no agency is truly equal until its team is made up of people who accurately reflect the diverse audiences its campaigns aim to target.

Jenni Hill is a content executive at Run2 Digital

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