A fair and balanced ad industry is reward in itself

In the past few months, I've been asked - not always politely, often with an aggressive call to duty and sometimes with a hint of the bully - to promote a range of reports, lectures, seminars, debates about women in creative industries.

Inevitably, each time, someone is selling something: seminar tickets at £350 plus VAT, full reports for hundreds of pounds, podium appearances for a sweet fee. Making the (necessary, urgent) case for more women in our industry has become nice business for some, beyond covering associated costs. 

I’m sure at Campaign we’re benefiting commercially somewhere along the line too, at the very least by not alienating a whole tranche of our customers by ignoring such a vital issue.

But the truth is that like almost everything else in our industry that enjoys a moment in the spotlight, the subject of gender diversity is being exploited. Perhaps that shouldn’t matter when the subject is so important, but diversity needs to be something we all pursue – and invest in – without expectation of reward; if our motives aren’t pure, we’re in danger of undermining the cause.

The IPA’s motives in pursuing a better gender and BAME balance in our industry are clear. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do to secure the industry’s health. The case has been comprehensively made that greater diversity is actually and obviously good for business – in the medium to long term, at least; if your motives are genuine, then you don’t need to cynically exploit this particular "trend" in order to thrive on it.

But in the short term, being transparent about diversity carries far less certain benefits. Being honest now about where agencies stand on issues such as the diversity of their workforce and equal pay is brave and potentially exposing. For all sorts of reasons, many of which are legacy issues that are being worked through, some agencies have a less than ideal make-up. What’s important about the IPA’s survey is that agencies have taken part and are now committed to measurably and accountably focusing on diversity within their organisations. Not all agencies have taken part, mostly for legitimate, practical reasons. But excuses for sitting on the sidelines cannot be allowed for much longer.

Tom Knox says "creative agencies could learn from the cultures and working practices of media agencies in creating workplaces where women flourish". Frances Ralston-Good reckons that’s because, deep down, there’s still a belief that men are better at creativity than women. That’s an appalling thought, but there’s only one way to prove it’s one our industry does not (any more) adhere to. Next year’s survey will begin to show whether we’re really making the necessary changes.


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