Forget feminism: Why promoting women just makes good business sense

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Photo courtesy e3 Learning
Photo courtesy e3 Learning

Given that most leadership teams consist of men, it's not surprising that most agency culture and creative is filtered through a male lens. However, if you take a look at agencies run by women, you can see a bit of a difference.

Moving from London to the U.S., I have been struck by the differences in culture — both broadly and in agencies. Agency culture, in particular, is a fragile and difficult thing to control, and leadership teams often obsess about it, as a great workplace culture not only helps to attract the best talent, but it also affects creative output. We all know, for instance, that there are a number of factors that contribute to culture — like the people, the space, the clients and so forth — but the biggest factor is leadership.

Given that most leadership teams consist of men, it’s not surprising that most agency culture and creative is filtered through a male lens. However, if you take a look at agencies run by women, you can see a bit of a difference. Three of the top five agencies on Ad Age’s 2014 Agency A-list are run by women. Combine this with the fact that there’s a correlation between business performance and female-run businesses and things start to get really interesting.

Harvard Business Review, for example, reported on the findings of Pepperdine University, which studied 200 Fortune 500 companies and found that companies that promoted women did financially better. Better in terms of share, revenue and profit.

It’s proven that female leadership has a significant impact on business results, and women tend to manage in a democratic, participatory way, which is a style thought to promote teamwork and creativity. Given that our business is all about creativity and relationships — and we all want healthy growth for our businesses — it’s reasonable to conclude that agencies that are run by women are likely to do well. And most do. Take Droga5, for example. Or Anomaly. Or 360i.

At mcgarrybowen, we’ve had both male and female presidents. In fact, what struck me the most about this agency, when I first moved from our London office last year, is the large number of senior women in our broader leadership team — women who don’t necessarily hold a C-suite title but who are making a difference nonetheless. We have a bunch of them running agency panels. We also have individual female leaders hold smaller group discussions over Chardonnay, or bagels and tea, to ensure we prime the next generation of female leaders.

During these sessions we don’t talk about being female. We talk about business. These sessions are unstructured and open. They are designed to be discursive, and rely on the questions asked. The conversation is broad and usually covers business, creativity, negotiation, emotional turbulence and beyond. We talk through anecdote and experience, and this in turn this affects our culture, which is more participatory and democratic.

We do this because it makes for intelligent business. We groom the next generation of female leaders who will contribute to the culture and creativity — not only of mcgarrybowen, but of the industry at large.

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