The curious case of adland's missing men

31 May 2018  |  Jane Asscher 
The curious case of adland's missing men

Senior male execs have been mysteriously disappearing - it's crucial for women to fill the gaps, writes 23red's Jane Asscher

The world is changing and gender equality is finally being put in the spotlight.

There’s a revolution underway and people who treat women unfairly (or worse) are finally being shown the door. Now, in our own industry, we’re seeing a lot of male senior execs leave under ‘mysterious’ circumstances.

There have been at least four sudden departures in the last six months, let alone those swept under the rug. Those reported publically have been C-suite/senior manager level from major global media companies, and have left for various reasons.

We wouldn’t be here without the media – publishers and journalists who are finally helping women’s voices and feelings not just be heard, but respected – and those brave women and men who have come forward to disrobe our industry’s ugly history and sadly current affairs.

But this is a global movement, not constrained to the media industry alone. For example, when the Bank of England’s deputy governor recently described the UK economy as ‘menopausal’, the media stood up for us – his views were outdated, unwanted, and downright offensive and thankfully the number of people who want to hear that drivel is rapidly decreasing. As they say, #TimesUp.

Most people in our industry have a fair idea of why certain men are making ‘sudden departures’ but potentially for legal reasons these stories are not being told. However, we shouldn’t focus our energy and attention on these men and their behaviours; we should focus on the opportunities that are arising from their departures. These are far more than significant and important for the potential future of the industry.

Having often held roles for many years, these departures mean there are now huge opportunities available for new, more diverse people to start to lead our industry into the light. Hopefully these roles do not remain within the old boys’ club by going to more middle-aged white men...

As an industry we’re actually not short of good women. What we do lack is women in senior positions and we know this, we’ve been talking about it for a very long time. In fact, we’ve been talking about it so long some men in the industry are bored of it. But we can’t feel bored when it’s still an issue because people have only being paying lip service to it.

So the icing on top of the male departures cake is that the opportunity is finally here for us to make a real change to the ratio of women and people from diverse backgrounds in senior management roles.

I know a huge number of intelligent capable women who could easily lead as CEO, CMO, CTO, CSO, ECD et al, as I’m sure a lot of you will too. The next step to allow them to get there is a move towards flexible working and open minds. Although you don’t really need an open mind; there’s a strong business case for having more women in leadership positions - companies that have more female execs make more money.

So, if you care about the future of your company and if you’re driven by success then hiring more women execs is the only viable option.

In an exciting move, which could help encourage these companies to increase the number of women execs, Legal & General has launched a new fund. The L&G Future World Gender in Leadership UK Index Fund is the UK’s first to prioritise investing in companies where women are well represented.

According to the Guardian, the fund scores and ranks blue-chip companies according to four gender diversity measures. It will look at the percentage of women on: the board of directors; at executive level; in management; and across the workforce. Companies are expected to reach a minimum of 30% representation of women in these four measures.

It’s a good start, but it’s a double edged sword. While it is commendable to highlight and reward those companies that are doing better with regards to gender diversity, nicknaming it the ‘Girl Fund’ is patronising at best and insulting at worst. I’m certain that all of the female leaders I know are women, not girls.

They could have chosen a number of alternative names that better represented the fund. Perhaps the ‘Women Fund’ or the ‘Equal Fund’ or even better, the ‘Diverse Fund.’

And looking at the fund’s ask of companies – is 30% representation really good enough? The UK is not made up of a population of 30% women and 70% men, it’s pretty much a 50:50 split. So why isn’t this target 50%? Yes it might be harder to achieve but that’s the whole point. If it was easy there wouldn’t be a problem.

People have been talking about having more women in senior position for years. Now the opportunities are laid bare, it’ll be interesting to see who is given the chance to fill the gaps in the media industry.



Jane Asscher is CEO and founding partner at 23red

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18 Jun 2018 

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