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Why girls and women and men and working parents and absolutely everyone actually needs to run the world

Why girls and women and men and working parents and absolutely everyone actually needs to run the world
As this year’s AdWeek Europe draws to a close, as ever, several dominant themes have emerged from this year's programme; perhaps the most fundamental and immediate for all of us as agency leaders are diversity, and more specifically, gender equality.

26471812161 c1cc050d7d zKicking off the week by taking the debate head on, the IPA assembled a panel discussion under the banner “Who Run The World, Girls”, curated and moderated by current IPA President Tom Knox. Diversity and equality are a core part of his presidential agenda, and the #MakeTheLeap campaign Tom’s spearheaded following the IPA’s 2020 target announcements should be commended, not least for being the catalyst to this session and pushing the debate up the AdWeek schedule.

With creative forces of nature like Harriet Vine (Creative Director and Co-founder of Tatty Devine), Cat Lewis (CEO and Executive Producer at Nine Lives Media) and Lauren Laverne (Co-Founder of The Pool and Broadcaster – although I have to agree with Tom, in my heart she’ll always be the lead singer of Kenickie) on stage, the conversation was always going to be insightful.

Now we all know the stats for our industry (they’re crap, no matter how many Government benchmarking figures we hide behind). And we all know the story (the gender balance we see overall is skewed by entry or admin level roles and the equal pipeline of talent falls off a male-dominated cliff by the time we hit senior and board level roles) so what could this discussion teach us about how to get it sorted that we don’t already know?

Challenging perception is key – don’t assume some industries like fashion or media are easy; whatever industry you’re in, chances are there are deep-seated structural inequalities that mean ultimately the decision-makers are white and male.

Lazy stereotyping still exists; from the responsible ‘Mummy Pig’ vs. silly ‘Daddy Pig’ character dynamic to a need to break down the imagery we as an industry put out. We need to recognise the need to write our own female driven stories and unearth the ones that have been lost in history. Message received and understood: This Girl Can is a game-changer, but it doesn’t give everyone else the right to take the rest of the year off.

While kicking back against inequality can sometimes be a real driving force for ambition, at some point that enthusiasm which you had in abundance when you entered the industry wanes and in some circumstances, it can just get too hard, particularly when you’re not expecting it. As Lauren said: “you don’t know the glass ceiling is there until you hit it.”

All three panellists were incredibly accomplished creative entrepreneurs, whose response to said ceiling had been to take their energy and channel it into creating something of their own, where a female led (and in some cases female dominated) workplace had embraced a culture and flexibility perhaps not found elsewhere. Cat’s example of project and goal focused female mentoring was particularly inspiring, helping move the discussion on from pastoral to professional roles.

But here lies danger number one in this prevalent narrative: the solution isn’t for every woman to start her own business. Being an entrepreneur is just not the reality for everyone, and it’s a dangerous path we tread when we let every other existing business off the hook in doing so. Plus, it simply doesn’t make sense to devolve responsibility – financially or morally - to small creative businesses.

At all levels, simply having policies won’t make people take them up if they feel they’ll be disadvantaged in doing so. We have to create a culture – within our agencies and as an industry - where any of the potential solutions presented, from part-time work to equal paternity and maternity leave, are not in any way seen as a compromise or a cop out, for either men or women.

This isn’t about a binary ‘male’ versus ‘female’ dynamic; this is about an opportunity for us all to attract different types of people into our industry and shift away from a competitive vs. creative culture that the panel so perceptively called us all out on. Lauren’s insight that perhaps the ‘beers and pizza’ pitch culture was a block to women in the creative department, and Harriet’s perspective that the notion of fighting with someone else to convince them that you’ve had a good idea might actually be the most stifling force to creativity and therefore completely counter-intuitive, had heads of all genders and ages nodding profusely.

Danger number two is perhaps the most challenging: the dominant narrative is still focused on the “so what can we do to help” top down question from men in leadership to the wider women in our industry, without widespread acceptance that gender equality might actually be beneficial to our collective business. Tammy Einav of adam&eve/DDB made this point beautifully in the session intro #MakeTheLeap promo; the hard evidence is there, and yet the culture of “quiet now guys, it’s time to let the women talk” still prevails. These are women’s issues, for women people, as Tubbs might have said, had she run a women’s shop up on that lonely moor.

Somewhat inevitably, all discussion roads seem to lead back to working parenthood. Now, whilst you will hear no argument from me about the importance of promoting – and celebrating – equal paternity and maternity rights, until we start to see male Creative Directors, ECD’s, MD’s and CEO’s taking their 3 months paid leave or leading from a 4 day working week, we won’t have the positive role models that will reassure both men and women in our businesses that it’s truly an equal playing field.

Working parenthood is not the only reality we have; of course, the impact of having children on women progressing into leadership roles is clear from the data we have, but our industries issues with gender equality are impacting on our ability to attract talent in ways we are not yet even focusing on. The look on every 25-year-old girls’ face in the room as they actively disengaged as soon as the conversation strayed back to breastfeeding at your desk could tell you that.

For an industry so driven by talent – and with a widely accepted talent crisis facing us - failing to make the connection between our diversity and gender equality statistics and an out-dated culture in our businesses is perhaps the biggest danger of them all. We of all people should know that we can’t change culture with policies or training: the only way to change culture is to fundamentally shift behaviour.

We all know the facts about why diversity is better for business – but we need to look beyond the numbers to challenge the culture our industry is built on if we’re going to solve this and survive.

We need to give women, men, introverts, extroverts, parents, non-parents, smart creative and misfit geeks alike a reason to believe in this industry. And to do that we have to push past a position of how the dominant establishment can help everyone else, to consider how – and why – everyone else can help the dominant establishment. 

Last updated 21/04/2016

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