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International Women's Day: what comes next?

08 Mar 2019  |  Michaela Jefferson 
International Women's Day: what comes next?

The theme of this year's International Women's Day is #BalanceForBetter - a simple phrase to lead on the tangible working and economic benefits of equality.

To mark the occasion, which will witness thousands of events across the world, Mediatel spoke with women - all at different stages of their careers - to see how much progress has been made towards a gender balanced media and advertising industry, and how much work remains to be done.

Overall, sentiment towards balance and equality among senior agency bosses in the UK is positive. "We've come far and I'd say that right now, as an industry, we're in pretty good shape and I'm optimistic for the future," says Jenny Biggam, co-founder and CEO of the7stars.

Likewise, Sue Frogley, CEO of Publicis Media UK, says that although change does not happen overnight, "it's extremely encouraging to see more and more women taking senior roles within our industry."

Both the7stars and Publicis Media claim to have over half of their senior leadership positions filled by women, and the7stars, bucking all trends and overshooting on equality, claims a +4.4% pay gap in favour of women.

However, according to the annual IPA diversity report for 2018, gender parity across UK agencies as a whole looks significantly worse. Female representation tails off enormously after middle management, with the number of women in c-suite positions having fallen rather than grown over the past three years.

With that momentum, UK agencies are a long way off from achieving the IPA's ambitious target of 40% female representation in senior leadership positions by 2020.

Furthermore, WPP's UK gender pay gap report for 2018 - which reveals the difference between the average earnings of all men and women in the organisation - saw the network's pay gap marginally grow, up to 14.9% from 14.6% in 2017. The worst offending agency in the network, J. Walter Thompson, recorded a 38.27% pay gap in favour of men.

For an industry that sees itself as progressive, liberal and in tune with the Zeitgeist, that's a pretty poor show.

What comes next?

According to Isabelle Baas, managing partner, digital at Starcom UK, new mothers being unable to return to work in the same role is significantly holding women back.

"There is more to be done so employers offer more flexible employment to returning mothers to utilise their many years of experience in the field and increase the economic - as well as mental - product of the UK," she says.

In agreement, Biggam adds that building the right work environment for women is vital - and that's where businesses need to focus next.

"For instance, whilst excellent maternity and paternity packages are important, companies need to strive to support women at work during pregnancy, as well as returning after maternity leave," she says.

The7stars has introduced a bonus scheme for prospective mothers - vouchers for a new work wardrobe of maternity clothes - so female employees no longer "dread" having to reveal their pregnancy.

Another of the "key hurdles" the industry needs to overcome is "ensuring men are in the room" during discussions about gender equality, according to Publicis' Sue Frogley.

"There are so many inspiring initiatives and groups to support and encourage women, however, a lot of the time it is just women talking to women. It's important men also hear first-hand what needs to change and how they can help, and that they are part of these positive conversations too," she says.

In a study for International Women's Day, Ipsos Mori found that two thirds of men acknowledge that women cannot achieve equality in their country without the support of men.

Rachel Bristow, director of client partnerships at Sky Media, adds that organisations should ensure they also help men have a good work-life balance with flexible working and shared parental/paternity leave initiatives "on a par with those offered to women", as part of efforts to evolve the workplace "in a broader sense".

One key initiative which has successfully engaged and united men and women across the industry is timeTo, the Advertising Association's industry-wide campaign to end sexual harassment in the workplace, launched in October last year.

The campaign aims to eradicate sexual harassment in the industry for both women and men, though women are at higher risk - a third of female respondents to timeTo's harrowing survey reported having experienced sexual harassment, alongside 9% of male respondents.

Since launch, the campaign has gained significant momentum and now has over 180 companies, including Mediatel, signed-up to its code of conduct.

“But we need to do more,” says Lorraine Jennings, Steering Committee member, timeTo and director of services and talent, NABS UK.

“We need more companies to sign-up and, to help this, we are working hard to make sure the campaign is as visible as possible at big industry events this year.”

“We also need to know that the campaign is making a difference," Jennings says, adding that there are plans to track awareness and impact later this year.

The future for young women in agencies

Indy agency Bountiful Cow claims to have a larger female than male workforce and an evenly split senior leadership team. According to Alice Lecointe, junior instrumentalist at the agency, "working in such an environment is inspiring as gender is of no consideration."

Lecointe says she has also seen a noticeable effort towards equal representation since joining the industry two years ago, particularly with speakers and panels at industry events.

However, "it does strike me that there are still noticeably male dominated areas within advertising - TV for instance is known for being a more male dominated environment where negotiations can often be led at the pub," she says.

Lecointe adds that the IPA's diversity figures show there is "clearly still an imbalance that needs to be fixed."

"I have personally noticed this across the industry, and it is disheartening when I think about my career progression," she says.

"And while the industry is making improvements, these need to be in earnest and not just to fill diversity quotas."

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