Advertising storing up an image problem?

A senior advertising executive has been in the news this week after commenting that the debate about gender bias was “all over”.

To put this in context, a survey conducted by the 3% Conference in 2014 found that although women make up just over 46 per cent of the advertising industry, just over 11 per cent of creative directors are female and all six of the major agency CEOs are men.

Earlier this year, when announcing the findings of my report, Empowering Productivity: Harnessing the Talents of Women in Financial Services, I was open about the fact that I wasn’t sure that the progression of women in financial services was much worse than other industries.

When I started working on the report however, I realised it wasn’t quite so straightforward.

Our research showed that in 2015 women made up only 14% of Executive Committees in the Financial Services sector. Too few women get to the top and there is a ‘permafrost’ in the mid-tier where women do not progress or they leave the sector. And it was clear that women leave because the culture isn’t right.

Although we discovered that there are a range of issues that organisations must address in order to develop a fully inclusive workforce at all levels – we did not find a magic bullet.

All organisations are different and have differing priorities. This will not only be true in financial services but other sectors as well – whether they deem themselves to have a problem or not.

In sectors beyond financial services, let’s say advertising, if there is a strong imbalance in male / female representation and role models at the top then there is a potential issue.

The key is to not be complacent. After all, it is in the interests of all businesses to strive to ensure that we reflect the customers we serve, enabling relevant, practical and personal service. This is certainly true in financial services and I would think especially true in the advertising industry.

I was especially pleased when Thomson Reuters signed the Women in Finance Charter in April this year. It sent out a strong signal about what’s important to them as a business: the importance of gender equality, diversity and inclusivity as well as promoting senior female representation in professional and financial services more broadly.

This was important because Thomson Reuters was the first non-financial company to sign the Charter. As David Craig, the forward thinking President at Thomson Reuters said:

It isn’t about meeting gender targets today – it’s about creating an environment, a culture, which attracts and retains the best people because it offers them the opportunity to succeed and to excel, it’s about an open and inclusive culture that drives better performance.

Perhaps other sectors can take a leaf out of their book, gain a head of steam and look to publish their own inclusion strategy and targets on an annual basis – and report against progress.

There are those who say initiatives that address gender equality are attempts to promote women at the cost of men. The truth is, it is about fairness for men and women, inclusion at all levels and, as a result, a fairer and more productive society for now and the next generation. It’s just the right thing to do.

The key point is that everyone is different but their dreams and ambitions should be respected equally. We can’t have bosses guessing what their employees want. Many women – as well as men – want to develop their careers as far as their ability will take them. And still to be mothers, wives, sisters, daughters. And still to be happy.

In July 2016, HMT announced that 72 firms had signed up to the Women in Finance Charter with organisations employing over half a million people and spanning across the breadth of the financial services sector. Those organisations who have signed the Charter have made a commitment to changing our world as well as to driving better business results. But that’s not the end of the story. There is no room for complacency.

The business case for fairness, equality and inclusion is clearer than ever, and organisations that embrace diversity (in all of its forms) will reap the benefits in terms of improved culture, behaviours, outcomes, profitability and productivity.


About Ian Humphreys