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.
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 Last year, Budweiser took the opportunity to re-imagine its outdated advert with the line, “She found she has it all.”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.
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.
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.