Views from Ad Week: When Will We All Be Equal?

Dominique Fyson is Senior Innovation Manager in the *multiply team, Posterscope.
Diversity was certainly one of the hot topics discussed this year at AdWeek Europe, with numerous seminars dedicated to discussing the need for more woman in top positions, and in fact a more diverse work culture in general, to have a successful business and to keep the advertising industry moving forward. However, many seem frustrated at the rate of change and that leads me to wonder, are we really acknowledging and combating the main issues?
I sat in one session where an all-woman panel spent 25 minutes discussing how having a baby is the tipping point that impacts your career, with a consensus that this was the main reason we don’t have enough woman in top positions. However, in my opinion this view is quite outdated. More agencies are offering their staff flexible working hours, the ability to work from home and joint maternity/paternity leave. So if the environment now facilitates woman with children, and we know more families have two working parents than any other generation, why do agencies see a significant decline in female employees once they hit their early 30s, and even more so in top positions.
I feel a lot of it comes down to the personality roles men and women are encouraged to play, which contributes to some women needing additional support in order to progress. Society dictates that women should be quieter and more emotionally lead than their male counterparts. And therefore some women have a tendency to find situations like discussing pay and promotion in the work force difficult and awkward.
As women, we can struggle to discuss our capabilities confidently, and while some women might think I am being stereotypical, many female friends I’ve asked admit they feel uncomfortable pushing a pay increase they felt they deserved, especially if initially denied. And since discussing pay and promotion between colleagues is generally seen as a taboo topic, quite often they never receive the encouragement or confidence they need to fight their corner.
This compounds even further when we start to look at leadership characteristics, there are numerous studies that have investigated the personality traits of CEOs in particular, and have categorised them as being driven, manipulative and fairly unemotional.
Now I think that’s a pretty narrow view, however I think many would agree that it does take certain qualities to make it to the top of a large business or agency. These could include being driven and confident, but you also need to be a risk taker and a fairly tough-minded individual with an ability to take criticism and learn from it. Again, qualities that might be more natural to men than the ‘emotional’ female.
However, there is a great need to have more people in top positions that break the traditional CEO mould, and instead are in the position due to their great business skills and even their empathy for their staff.
Tracey De Groose, CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network UK and Ireland, is one of these women. She is a CEO, a mother and forceful driver of equality in the workplace, and it’s clear that she intends Dentsu Aegis Network to be leaders in this diversity debate, which has been demonstrated through the launch of new digital agency ‘Fortysix’ at AdWeek.
Fortysix, formed in partnership with Freeformers, a digital transformation business that mentors a young person for every commercial project it runs, has been created to give new business solutions to clients, and will be entirely staffed by young people from diverse backgrounds. Dentsu Aegis Network has also recently launched a Woman in Leadership program, aimed to give women additional support as they move towards senior management.
It’s initiatives like this that are going to change the balance of agency boardrooms. It will give woman more confidence to speak of their abilities and push them to be seen an equal to men in their respective fields regardless of potential different skillsets.
However, even with these type of initiatives, agencies need to work hard at dropping unconscious bias, which will be challenging. I went to two panel sessions which focused on equality for women in the workplace, and both panels were made up of only women. And looking around it was clear the audience was 95% female. Potentially this is our own unconscious bias coming through: that only women should be speaking up on female roles and unfortunately it seems to be mainly women that are listening. I believe we need to welcome more men to openly advocate equality and to do this we need to encourage and welcome them to join in the discussions.
When we all take responsibility into our own hands to move forward, then, only then, do we have a chance on one day all being represented as equal.