International Women’s Day: is your agency doing enough to enact cultural change?

Better the balance, better the world is the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day.

Better suggests that something (if not everything) has already been achieved, and I’m inclined to agree.

The Women’s Business Council five year progress update (November 2018) reported that the employment rate for women has increased from 68% in 2014 to £71% in 2018.

During that time the gender pay gap has also fallen from 19.7% to 17.9%, and the percentage of women on FTSE boards has increased from 20.7% to 30.2%.

Last year was also a landmark year for women’s voices being heard. Movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp can’t be underestimated. For us in ad land, it often manifests itself in the curious and sudden disappearance of men at a senior level, and in new guidance from the ASA prohibiting gender stereotyping in ads.

The next question, then, is what does ‘better the balance’ look like for our industry?

The argument goes that balancing the system also requires a better work life balance, but this is a fallacy.

Seeing a dichotomy between work and life pits the one against the other, and trying to compartmentalise your life just adds to the stress.

Arianna Huffington has said “work-life balance is a myth” and has been fairly outspoken in her view that most of us have made dangerous concessions in our quest for personal and organisational top performance.

Instead, blend is the reality rather than setting out to achieve perfection – something that is all about eliminating the artificial delineation between home and office life.

Its benefits are not limited to women, but are especially important if we want women to capitlise on the changes to their working lives we’ve seen in recent years.

What we’re talking about in this instance is enacting workplace cultural change that enables the seeds of gender balance we’ve sown to take root.

For those wondering whether their agency or organisation could be doing more to promote this, here’s a few key questions to ask yourself:

Is parental leave being taken in your organisation? What about annual leave?

Is emailing team members at night and on weekends avoided? Does your team switch off?

Does your organisation differentiate between full-time vs part-time and think solely about working hours, or instead prioritise waking hours on the business case?

Are you making the most of new technologies that reduce presenteeism and focus your team on deliverables instead?

Could you and your team cut out unnecessary travel and commuting, potentially saving a day a week, to say nothing of the cost and rush-hour angst?

Are people’s working weeks structured for them to be there for the three stakeholders in their lives (family, clients, employees)?

For many this will be a total step change in ways of working, or instead reminiscent of an existing idea that's never really got off the ground. If that's the case, please know that galvanising men to promote this is the next step. Their role as change makers – particularly those in senior leadership roles – is crucial, but clearly there's huge benefits to be had in terms of their own experience in the workplace.

Moreover, if we don’t, the gains women have seen risk becoming a moment in time, crushed by old-fashioned working practices that constantly ask us to sacrifice something – as opposed to prompting the type of systemic change in our working lives that we’d all like to see.

Jane Asscher is chief executive and founding partner at 23red

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