How adland can crack gender equality in 2017

How adland can crack gender equality in 2017

The ad industry is now collectively striving for gender equality, but we all have so much more to do to achieve it.

When I started in advertising in 1981, women made up 47% of the ad agency workforce, 18% of creative positions and 14% of management positions.

Five of the top 20 agency boards then had no women at all. Thirty-six years on, adland is more gender-balanced at 51% female overall, 26% in creative and 27% in management. Progress, certainly, but gender parity is still a long way off.

Over the years, wise and wonderful pioneers such as Marilyn Baxter and Debbie Klein have made the business case for gender equality, McKinsey has proved it, the IPA has steadfastly measured it, Wacl has showcased and encouraged it, Campaign has covered and championed it, Cannes Lions have awarded it, Sue Unerman and Kathryn Jacob have written books about it and countless glass-ceiling-smashers have demonstrated it by doing the top jobs brilliantly. Campaign’s A List was 19% female in 2016 and 25% female in 2017. The pipeline of young female talent is overflowing.

"Manbassadors" are speaking out in favour of balanced teams, panels, juries. All of which is vital but it’s just not working fast enough.

There still aren’t enough women in management or in creative. We’ve had brilliant minds on it and great role models demonstrating it. And yet we are nowhere near cracking it. Many believe 2017 is the year when we will.

Targets are becoming edicts, not encouragements. A new legislative framework around the gender pay gap comes into force in April, mandating companies to declare and close gender pay and bonus gaps.

Legislation around flexible working, maternity, affordable childcare and shared parental leave is ramping up to support women. Those unwilling to get with the programme are being named, shamed or sacked. Clients are demanding diversity in their agency teams and in their work. Outdated working structures that are racist, sexist and ageist are being booted out.

So what can we all do to really shift the dial in 2017? 

Eliminate the gender pay divide

When the gender pay gap legislation kicks in, companies with more than 250 employees will have to publish their pay and bonus data by gender. And transparency works. I’d urge every company to measure its gender pay divide at all levels, in all departments – and then eliminate it.

Unconscious-bias training for everyone

You will be surprised at your own bias. It is unconscious, after all. It may lead you to change the way you recruit, interview, manage, party.

Harvard’s Iris Bohnet recommends unconscious-bias training ahead of any other diversity programme for effectiveness and outcomes.

Know your diversity stats and set targets

The IPA has set targets for the industry’s management to be 40% female by 2020. Embed diversity into your current plan and your succession plan. Appoint a diversity champion. And review the numbers regularly. They can shift suddenly if one or two women leave or move roles.

Get more female creatives

Nowhere is the gender divide more evident than in creative. It means getting right back into schools and colleges to let girls "see it to be it" in brilliant role models. Clients are starting to insist on diversity of teams and casting, not just on gender but also ethnicity, sexuality and disability. It also means keeping that talent motivated.

Encourage women to say what they want

Until we say what we want, we won’t find solutions that work for women. One of my friends is a hotshot partner in a law firm. After months of prepping, dithering and coaching, she finally plucked up the courage to say she wanted term-time working. Because she is so good and asked so clearly, she got it.

Another friend works in a media organisation, compressing five days’ work into a four-day week. Another in the civil service used their job-share finder scheme to job-share with another senior woman.

These are the flexible new solutions that will keep women in the business, especially returning mums. We’re not a homogeneous group. We need a range of solutions.

Encourage women to say what they don’t want

Whistleblowing is often the conclusion of a building frustration that hasn’t been aired or listened to. There is fear because there are consequences, as last year’s press illustrated in such horrific detail. But until and unless we have the courage to speak up against sexism, we won’t stop the rot. 

Get men to lead on equality

We want to be equal to men. We don’t want to be men. Many are as bothered by the glass ceiling as women. We can’t empower women without involving men. Gender inclusiveness means involving men as agents of change.

Most agencies are still run by men and we need their leadership and partnership to find solutions. Shared parental leave is granted in law but take-up is slower than we need it to be. Let’s celebrate the guys who are doing it so that more do. Mums and dads making diversity work.

Balance shortlists, balance everything

Every shortlist, jury, presentation, speaker panel, meeting, succession plan, press article should be 50/50 on gender. And getting it right for women gives us a better chance of getting it right for diversity overall.


We have to walk the talk and evidence all this in our work. Unilever is pioneering "unstereotyping", Mars is championing diversity and disability, and countless brands are showing that "this girl can".

Sponsor promising female leaders

Mentoring works and sponsoring propels. None of us is too old or too young to sponsor female talent, make encouraging noises, shove it into the spotlight, yank it up the ladder. And there has never been a better year to do so. Let’s shunt these numbers forward in 2017 and be proud we did so.

Cilla Snowball is the group chief executive and group chairman of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and chairman of the Women’s Business Council.

Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free