What female leaders have to say ahead of Women's Equality Day

Executives from Weight Watchers, Accenture Interactive, Publicis Groupe, Wavemaker and more shared their insights.

Sunday is Women’s Equality Day, which originally commemorated the date in 1920 in which women were given the right to vote in the United States. Today, the holiday represents so much more, with movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up bringing important issues into the spotlight – not only in the advertising and marketing industry, but for the country at large.

Campaign US caught up with some fierce female agency and brand executives to find out what positive changes they’ve noticed for women in the industry over the last year, as well as what else they want to see.

Check out their powerful answers below.


Gail Tifford, chief brand officer for Weight Watchers and co-founder of the ANA’s #SeeHer movement

What are the noteworthy changes you've noticed in the advertising and marketing industry over the last year when it comes to women's equality? 
We are finally starting to see change in how women and girls are being portrayed in media. Since we launched #SeeHer in 2016, and established the Gender Equality Measure (GEM), the industry has moved from having 50 percent portrayal of authentic women in ads to 70 percent.

What do you hope to see by this time next year?
There is still work to do, but we are optimistic that by 2020, all women and girls will see themselves as they truly are in media.  With women making 80 percent of purchase decisions, it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s a business imperative.

Karina Wilsher, global COO and partner of Anomaly

What are the noteworthy changes you've noticed in the advertising and marketing industry over the last year when it comes to women's equality?
The seismic cultural shift. The untangling of a complicit system in Hollywood sparked an unprecedented movement for equality in our industry (and many others), from bottom up, as well as top down. And, given public appetite, gender equality is now recognized as a clear source of commercial value. Finally, agencies and clients are coming together to use their influence to drive change. Contractual commitments like Free The Bid, or UN Women and Unilever forming the Unstereotype Alliance, are both great examples of industry leaders coming together to advance the agenda.

What do you hope to see by this time next year? 
A whole new generation of female-led entrepreneurs and innovators positively disrupting the status quo.

Carla Serrano, chief strategy officer of Publicis Groupe and CEO of Publicis New York

What are the noteworthy changes you've noticed in the advertising and marketing industry over the last year when it comes to women's equality?
Awareness. People are paying attention and it feels like things are starting to move in the right direction with some smart promotions and hires. It’s a start. My personal mission is to see equal female representation at all levels, throughout all aspects of our business. The scales are still way out of balance and it’s going to take some radical, aggressive moves to get our industry – and every industry we touch – aligned. It’s an exciting time. The ecosystem is in disruption and that’s a good thing. We have culture and community behind us. It will happen.

What do you hope to see by this time next year?
I’d love not to have to answer this question next year. Wouldn’t it be great if things move along so quickly, and rightly, that women’s equality in the advertising and marketing workplace isn’t even a point of discussion?

Amanda Richman, U.S. CEO of Wavemaker

What are the noteworthy changes you've noticed in the advertising and marketing industry over the last year when it comes to women's equality? 
For all the bold advancements made this year, made more visible by #MeToo, Time’s Up, #SeeHer and other movements  – often it’s the small moments that add up to transformative change.  The space created in a meeting, encouraging another woman to speak up – the pause in hiring, to make sure we have a diverse slate of candidates – and the introspection on our own unconscious biases. We’re collectively raising expectations of ourselves and each other in how we support our peers and the next generation of leaders, regardless of gender.

What do you hope to see by this time next year? 
Next year, may the small moments become momentum, going beyond race and gender to also seek out diverse perspectives across age and geography – two other areas where our industry continues to have a self-limiting view.

Mish Fletcher, global head of marketing at Accenture Interactive

What are the noteworthy changes you've noticed in the advertising and marketing industry over the last year when it comes to women's equality? 
In the last 12 months, I changed roles, moving from a traditional agency to a consultancy so my observations may also be a result of a change in workplace culture. I’ve observed two main trends.

1) Women being more supportive of each other: Women are becoming more supportive of each other in the professional environment. At a recent leadership conference, I invited all of the women in attendance to be in a photo, which I used at the start of my presentation with the heading "The Fab Femmes of Accenture Interactive." It wasn’t anti-men, it was a celebration of women and a recognition that, even though we’re still in the minority, we’re a force to be reckoned with because we bring different perspectives and fresh ideas to the table. We looked at each other as sisters, not competitors, and saw a reflection of our own strength, determination and achievements. This small act brought us closer together, an informal women’s network of sorts, and we’ve already joined forces on some initiatives to further advance women’s equality in our workplace. We might make the photo an annual tradition and see how this group expands over time, particularly as Accenture makes progress toward its commitment of a gender-balanced workforce by 2025.

2) A greater appreciation of women in their 40s and 50s: For years it felt like women over 40 (not to mention over 50!) were invisible in the agency environment, where youth was prioritized over experience. There seems to be a real sea change in this attitude – women who are in their 40s and 50s are increasingly being recognized, valued and respected for the contributions they make. The women I encounter in this age group are articulate, informed, comfortable in their own skin and, just generally, bad-asses – confident in who they are, the value they deliver, the difference they make. I’d love to see this trend continue.

Suzanne Powers, global chief strategy officer of McCann Worldgroup

What are the noteworthy changes you've noticed in the advertising and marketing industry over the last year when it comes to women's equality?
What excites me is the real change that I have seen first-hand, in both actions and involvement that has resulted in a more egalitarian process taking hold.  More voices are being heard as a direct result of the #metoo movement first in Hollywood and now in our world too. It’s gone beyond just agencies being more active in publicly announcing women in leadership positions and has truly begun transforming into something tangible in the hallways of the agencies and client partners I interact with every day.

I am heartened and honored to work with an incredible group of women as part of #TimesUP advertising. What inspired me from the first moment, was how MANY talented female leaders there actually already are in our industry. I think we suffer from an awareness problem, as the numbers in leadership are greater than we perceive, but they aren’t necessarily the loudest voices of our industry. These women are the people who can and do make a difference in their own companies every day. They are there, but they are busy getting on with it, rather than talking about it.

What do you hope to see by this time next year? 
My hope for the next year is that these voices become more prominent, as this will drive industry-wide change. That their brilliant inspiring, and tangible actions permeate the business. That we create fundamental systemic change by being bolder, louder and collectively strong.

Cindy Gallop, founder of Make Love Not Porn, diversity and inclusion champion

What are the noteworthy changes you've noticed in the advertising and marketing industry over the last year when it comes to women's equality? None.

What do you hope to see by this time next year? Some.

Margaret Johnson, partner and chief creative officer of Goodby Silverstein & Partners

What are the noteworthy changes you've noticed in the advertising and marketing industry over the last year when it comes to women's equality? 
It’s been gratifying to see consumers and news organizations calling out inequities when campaigns take a misogynist twist; agencies taking a zero-tolerance stance toward sexist behavior at the top of their organizations; and the rise of women banding together, with men’s support, around the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. The conversation is happening throughout the industry, with changes happening at a rapid pace. We’re in a very different place than we were in last year, and I feel lucky to be a female leader at this time.

What do you hope to see by this time next year?
By this time next year, I hope to see more women at the helm of creative and marketing departments. Women’s Equality Day marks the two-year anniversary of my promotion and GS&P’s announcing an equal split of male and female partners. Since this new structure was put in place, we’ve been on fire from a new business perspective and are proof of how equality and diversity result in success.

In the long term, though, for my daughter’s generation, I hope there’s a point at which they no longer feel the need to celebrate a Women’s Equality Day and that equality becomes the norm.

Beth Wade, CMO and head of global development at VML

What are the noteworthy changes you've noticed in the advertising and marketing industry over the last year when it comes to women's equality?
Women feel more empowered to speak up about inequality, but most importantly they’re seeing action when they do voice their concerns. It’s encouraging to see so many agencies and partners in the industry step up to make equality a reality.

In the past year, I think we’ve also seen more attention and acknowledgement around diversity and intersectionality. While we can rally around identifying as women, our collective group makes up an infinite number of experiences and varying backgrounds. These unique perspectives shape how we approach work and are being celebrated more than ever. 

What do you hope to see by this time next year?
I hope to see our industry actively sharing and helping each other create more impactful programs for our companies. We should embrace successes beyond our own walls and build environments of continuous improvement. Only then will we have scale in creating spaces where women feel heard and can thrive in their careers.

Evin Shutt, COO and partner of 72andSunny

What are the noteworthy changes you've noticed in the advertising and marketing industry over the last year when it comes to women's equality?
One of the most exciting changes this year in terms of women's equality is that both clients and agencies are acting for change and lasting solutions. For example, it’s great to see brands committing to Free the Bid - it’s a collective responsibility. 

What do you hope to see by this time next year?
In the coming year I'd love to see brands and other agencies invest in commitments and partnerships with more organizations we’ve partnered with like the Geena Davis Institute for Gender Equality. It’s not just about change within our companies, but also in the product we put out in the world. We’re all accountable.

Erica Fite, creative director and founder, Fancy

What are the noteworthy changes you've noticed in the advertising and marketing industry over the last year when it comes to women's equality? 
Women are demanding that the world pay attention to the things in their lives that were previously considered off limits or embarrassing. #metoo is an example of this, of course, in advertising, marketing, and everywhere, but so is the #bloodnormal campaign for Libresse that won a Glass Lion at Cannes. And so, conversations are starting to happen around women's sexual wellness, aging, menopause, mental illness, etc. Slowly advertisers and marketers are realizing these totally normal, just part of life, things are relevant and important and by being a part of the conversation, they can be a bigger part of women's lives.

What do you hope to see by this time next year? 
I hope that by this time next year we are going to see the media censors relax around advertising products that are important for women but are currently considered too risqué. Why is it OK to advertise a condom on social media unless the message is about female pleasure?

Also, on a side note, how crazy is it that "Women’s Equality" gets one day?

Nola Weinstein, global head of culture and experiential at Twitter

What are the noteworthy changes you've noticed in the advertising and marketing industry over the last year when it comes to women's equality?
Earlier this year we launched #HereWeAre in reaction to a lack of women on a major keynote stage. Since then, #HereWeAre has been dedicated to ensuring women in every industry and around the world are seen and heard. Representation and visibility matter. So do the generosity, empathy and consciousness of our leaders and peers. When it comes to refining a hiring pool, powering a panel, curating a stage, retweeting a post, publishing a list or simply taking the time to nurture and grow a team, the best marketers and managers are the ones who are paying attention. Women have always been looking out for each other, but in the past year we’ve seen a significant increase in Tweets related to equality and women supporting and championing one another— escalating the wins, calling out the wrongs, promoting the promos, highlighting great work and pulling up an extra seat at the table. There's always more that can be done, but we’ve found our voice.

Lisen Stromberg, Partner and COO of The 3% Movement

What are the noteworthy changes you've noticed in the advertising and marketing industry over the last year when it comes to women's equality?
Oh what a year’s been! Thanks to the #MeToo movement, many leaders in our industry are finally saying, "Enough is enough."  Women at the top collaborated across agencies to offer their support by launching #TimesUpAdvertising. Men at the top stepped up by ridding their agencies of toxic talent. Together, both male and female leaders have recognized that privileging creative at the expense of culture is not just harmful to employees, it’s risky business.

At 3%, we heard from over 10,000 women and men across every holding company through our proprietary Belonging, Inclusion, Leadership and Talent™ survey (part of our Certification and our Thriving Culture assessment programs). Female respondents told us they are beginning to feel heard, believed, and connected to each other in ways they never have before. Male respondents told us they are beginning to understand what not to do, but are unclear on what they can do to be true allies. Sadly, we also saw the beginnings of a male backlash reflecting fear and uncertainty amongst men in our industry.

What do you hope to see by this time next year?
My hope for the next year is that women continue to get the support they need to truly thrive in the workplace and that men get the insights and tools they need to be stakeholders for change.

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