Changing the debate around gender inequality in advertising

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In the wake of International Women's Day this weekend discussions around women in leadership and, in particular, what more can be done to address gender inequalities in all aspects of business and society are being raised once again.

While the creative industries may pride themselves on having a greater gender balance than many, it’s clear from a number of reports on the gender pay gap in the marketing sector that there is still a long way to go to achieve true equality.

Following a report from Harvard Business School debunking the myth of the ‘confidence gap’ i.e. that women are often held back from senior leadership roles due to a lack of confidence, Mission recently bought together a group of senior leaders from across Mission agencies to debate the role that confidence plays in achieving greater gender balance, and how businesses can create the right environment for everyone to thrive.

Times are changing

There’s no doubt that significant change has been seen both within the creative industries and the wider business world over the past decade when it comes to gender equality. According to the most recent ANA figures the number of women in leadership marketing roles is likely at an all-time high, with 52% of senior level marketers being female, and women accounting for 47% of CMOs of the member companies surveyed.

This change has come about not just because it is the right things to do, but because it makes business sense. It is now widely recognised and evidenced that having women on board helps companies to perform better, and that diversity of opinion, experience and skills is vital to a strong leadership team. With this in mind, the focus is starting to shift from seeing equality in terms of numbers or quotas, to identifying the qualities that make a good leader and ensuring that those who possess them are given the opportunity to progress, regardless of gender or other characteristics.

Creating a supportive culture

Key to this is establishing a supportive culture in the workplace that addresses any potential confidence issues (from either gender) by inviting people to talk about their achievements and successes in a more natural way - rather than rewarding only those that shout the loudest. Self-promotion may not be something that comes easily to many, but mentoring, peer networks and other supportive communities within the industry can help improve confidence and create a framework for female advancement.

Female mentorship has in fact been proven to build sustainable leadership, as leadership success has been widely linked to shared connection and learning. Structured mentoring programmes, with support and learning for both mentors and mentees can play an important role in helping to advance the goal of elevating women into positions of power. This in turn creates more role models of women in leadership to inspire and motivate the next generation of young women in the industry.

A business culture based on enablement rather than discrimination (either positive or negative) is one that will truly get the best out of all its employees.

Redefining success

There’s no denying that more needs to be done within the creative industries to ensure all women who want to are able to reach the very top of their field – but what about those who don’t? An increasing focus on work/life balance in recent years and growing demand from the next generation of employees for a professional package and development plan that goes beyond pay and promotions, has started to move the conversation from how to get more women on boards to how to ensure all women are able to achieve their personal career goals, whatever these might be.

Of course, this approach doesn’t just apply to women. Allowing individuals to define their own version of what success look like, whether that’s working more flexibly, having the space and support to learn new skills, or taking a more unconventional route to the top, will empower everyone to be their best - and this is ultimately what true equality should be about.

Cat Davis, group marketing director at Mission

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