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International Women's Day 2020: How can we be better?

06 Mar 2020 
International Women's Day 2020: How can we be better?

In celebration of International Women's Day, adlanders covering a range of seniority reflect on where the industry stands and the changes that must be made

Shifting leadership expectations

Lucy Taylor, chief growth officer, MullenLowe UK

International Women’s Day is a chance to reflect on how women are faring within the marketing and advertising sector. In particular, it is a chance to examine the barriers that still stop women from ascending to positions of influence within our industry. And while examining the barriers women face across our industry, it would be remiss not to acknowledge that the struggles of women of colour and trans women are heightened even more than their cis, Caucasian counterparts.

One barrier that impacts the development of women across the board is the idea of the alpha leader. Historically, agencies within our industry have been run by so-called ‘alpha leaders’, most of whom were male, enhancing the stereotype that to get ahead in business you need to embody the cut-throat and dominating personality traits of an alpha. These alpha behaviours are typically encouraged in boys from a young age as they develop, and often by the time they’re in the boardroom they are being praised for being ‘assertive’.

However, too often women who embody the same behaviours or traits are described as ‘aggressive’ or ‘emotional’. The problem here is twofold; the notion that to be a good leader means you must demonstrate alpha leader attributes and the barriers women face for exhibiting such attributes.

By both hiring more women (across every level) and training our senior management teams to value and nurture the traits in their employees that are beyond those typically described as ‘alpha’, we will start to see a shift in leadership expectations. However, implementing these initiatives will take a long time to be felt as historical structures take a while to dissemble - ideologically and practically.

If we can create an environment that better allows women to progress and makes for a more equal playing field, it will eventually allow for a diverse range of personality types to step into more senior roles thus bettering our output as an industry.

My gender won't be an obstacle

Meenakshi Reddy, paid media account manager, agenda21

Mad Men may resonate with some older people in our industry, but for my generation it feels like little more than fiction. There is absolutely still work to be done around equal pay, opportunity, exclusion and so on, but there are now far fewer obstacles in the way, and I certainly feel empowered to drive my career forward on my own terms.

Women have a louder voice than ever, and I have no shortage of inspiring role models. Change is happening fast, and business leaders are getting on board with the need to think and act differently when it comes to equal opportunity and treatment – I’m certainly optimistic that my gender will not be an obstacle to my career progression.

Women starting out today can be incredibly grateful to those who have gone before us who have dedicated an untold number of hours towards the goal of gender equality. It’s also great to see agencies introducing initiatives such as schemes for both maternity and paternity leave that are designed to make it easier to commit fully to your career without sacrificing any experiences away from the office.

However, I do think there is still an opportunity to eradicate unconscious bias around perceived competence, and an important next step should look at having a greater number of processes in place that encourage women to be more confident in the workplace.

Can women have it all?

Satin Reid, UK MD, MediaCom

Perceptions about women have come a long way in the last half a century – and it’s something you can clearly see in the media industry. Last year, Budweiser took the opportunity to re-imagine its outdated advert with the line, “She found she has it all.” It was a potent change, but was it representative of everyone?

We are often told women can have it all: the job, the family, the social life. And many of the women who have ‘made it’ say they have done just this. But spending so much of the conversation focusing how we can all be superwoman is detrimental – not only to the fight for equality, but also to our mental health, wellbeing and general satisfaction in our professional lives.

We need to instil greater honesty and cultural change, both in business and wider society. By encouraging more openness from women at all levels in the business, we can build safe forums to share experiences and genuinely support one another. The truth is we need to be kinder to ourselves and acknowledge that 'having it all' is an incredibly difficult standard to hold yourself to.

When you’re facing challenges, think about what you would say to your best friend – and never think that because you’re not superwoman, you’re not succeeding. We owe it to ourselves, and the next generation of women, to take positive steps that paint an honest picture of women in the 21st century. Women can have it all, but can’t do it all.

How men can play their part

Rafe Blandford, chief product officer, Digitas

I’ve always considered myself an ally for gender equality, but during my time at Digitas I’ve come to understand that’s not enough. We have to advocate and take action for the change we want to see. I try to be mindful of that in my day-to-day interactions with others, in the language I use, and in any decisions I take. Day-to-day this is about actively speaking up and intervening to make sure people feel valued and respected at work, especially around areas and behaviours that can help or hinder inclusion.

Sometimes it can be as simple as saying thank you and actively listening to people’s concerns. More often it’s about making sure everyone’s voice is heard, especially on occasions when people are ignored, spoken over, or senior people dominate the conversation. Careful direction and decision making is important too, whether that’s making balanced casting choices for pitch and projects teams, or encouraging the use of gender neutral user stories in the agile development process.

More generally, in the last twelve months, I have made a conscious effort to try to be an empathetic and inspirational member of the Digitas family that leads by example. A key element of this leadership principle and style has been being more mindful and active on gender equality and other diversity issues.

At Digitas, I endeavour to make this an integral part of my behaviour by thinking and acting about this across three areas: people, process, and product. For people it is about acting as an advocate for individuals, enabling opportunities, providing guidance, and ensuring there is equality in recruitment, team casting, and expected behaviour. For process it is about making sure we take a collaborative and flexible approach in our ways of working and ensuring a diverse set of voices are heard and respected. For product it is about trying to ensure there is balanced and informed thinking behind the definition and delivery of the connected experiences we put out into the world. It’s very hard to get this right, so for me, it’s also important to instill a culture of continuous improvement to help drive change.

At the Groupe level I’m a board member for Publicis UK’s VivaWomen BRG. VivaWomen centres around mentoring, professional development, leadership and work-life integration to empower women to achieve their potential at Publicis Groupe.

Subtle changes go a long way...

Ellie Roberts, new business manager, The Specialist Works

I feel very positive about my career progression. I have smart objectives, regular check-ins with my manager, ample learning and development opportunities, and can see a clear path for progress and success.

I do, however, think there is more to be done in terms of equality in the industry. And I think this starts with giving women a voice from early on in their careers.

Subtle changes in behaviour can go a long way. By encouraging women to (to coin Sheryl Sandberg) ‘lean-in’ you’re sending the message that women matter and that their opinion matters.

I think we’re getting a lot of the bigger stuff right or are at least on the road to progress, but I think it’s the smaller behaviours which will have an impact of unravelling the often-subconscious temptation for women to keep ‘in their lane’. I think it is management’s responsibility to be asking more junior female members of staff the questions ‘what do you think?’ and ‘why do you think that?’ in everyday conversation to support female development and empowerment.

Diversity is the industry's lifeblood

Jane Mason, chief people officer, VIOOH

Change always needs to come from the top and the advertising sector is no different. This means empowering industry leaders and those with a responsibility for hiring to recruit with gender equality in mind in order to build a culture of inclusivity. In the advertising industry specifically - one that has been traditionally male-dominated - broadening our reach when looking to recruit and working with agencies that foster an active approach to gender equality is key.

Doing so not only sends the message that clients and partners are actively looking at diversity as a point of attraction but perhaps, more importantly, it facilitates an indicative collection of backgrounds, and therefore ideas and inspiration. Diversity is the lifeblood of the industry and must be cherished and nurtured. Thankfully, we're seeing slow and steady improvement in this regard but there is clearly still much to be done. The fight to challenge stereotypes, dismiss bias, and broaden perceptions around the capabilities of women in tech and the wider OOH industry is one that is ongoing.

For our part, we partner with our benefit providers and offer webinars and information for all our employees to help create a gender-equal workplace culture. We also have plans to help train women so they can be empowered with the confidence and self-belief of their male counterparts.

Turn gender stereotyping on its head

Shazia Ginai, CEO, Neuro-Insight

The business world has taken significant steps in promoting gender equality. Which has helped to open-up the debate around the gender pay gap, allowing women to challenge the status quo and make their voices heard. Only this week the TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, entered the conversation – calling for flexible working to be a right for everyone at work from day one, to help balance family responsibilities and work. It came after the TUC unveiled analysis stating that women work an average of 63 unpaid days because of the gender pay gap.

Despite progress, we continue to see gender stereotypes shaping how we view career progression and professional success. Leadership and authority are often linked to gender-informed attributes such as ‘agency’ - typically a masculine characteristic - and less so with ‘vulnerability’ and ‘communality’, which are seen as more feminine traits.

Does that mean women should become more masculine-like to be successful? Do we need to become less approachable to succeed?

Not quite! Neuroscience has shown that humans are geared towards making connections so relatable leaders are more likely to get the best out of their employees. Women can turn gender stereotyping on its head and show that leadership is a human rather than a gender-informed attribute.

Embracing agency initiatives

Ruth House, strategy lead, Wavemaker UK

International Women’s Day is a day of reflection for me - reflection on how much we’ve accomplished and how far we have yet to go to achieve gender equality and universal respect for human rights. It is the pinnacle of the Women@Wavemaker annual commitment to empower women throughout their career.

This great initiative enables us to have a larger platform to share inspirational stories, hear from motivational speakers and engage our people with relevant training across the agency. Additionally, members of the group provide time and resources to help women’s charities that normally wouldn’t have access to media and communications advice. As women, it’s about our unity and how we live and celebrate our lives.

I’m extremely proud that Wavemaker is a workplace that embraces diversity and champions the empowerment of women.

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08 Jul 2020 

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