"I found out last week that a male candidate was being offered a 35% higher salary than me for the same role that I do. My boss then admitted I was underpaid when I asked about my salary."
"My business has only white, male senior leaders. The atmosphere has become increasingly toxic."
"The thought of parenthood gives me anxiety. I’m likely to be the highest earner in my relationship; I just don’t think the workplace has moved forward enough in making it easier for men to take the chief parental leave responsibilities."
"I’m 48 and I’ve never had a female boss. Lack of female representation at very senior levels is a huge problem."
These four accounts of the lack of gender diversity in advertising and how it impacts employees on a personal and professional level were shared ahead of an event designed to help bridge the gender divide in the industry, organised by women's professional network Bloom. The event, which was held in support of Women’s Aid at Havas' London office, shone a light on how men and women are held back by gender stereotyping.
Stephanie Matthews, president of Bloom, said that bringing men into the conversation is vital: "It is impossible to deliver genuine change unless both genders are on board to deliver that."
Matthews explained that, post-#MeToo, while women now have a much stronger public position, at the same time it seems to have pushed them away from male colleagues. Research from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In foundation found that almost half of male managers were uncomfortable engaging in common work activities with women, such as working one on one or socialising, while one in six male managers was uncomfortable mentoring a female colleague. As Matthews pointed out: "It can be difficult for men to navigate this new terrain with confidence."
In an attempt to find a better way through this new terrain, a panel discussion addressed the unspoken barriers holding men and women back and how a culture that demands both men and women mask who they really are is preventing the industry from addressing the cultural and structural issues getting in the way of building a more equal worklplace.
Here are some of the key takeaways from that discussion.
1 Prioritise people
'We spend a lot of time on the urgent, but we don’t spend enough time on the important'
— Sarah Jenkins
Sarah Jenkins, chief marketing office at Grey London, highlighted the vital and often overlooked importance of talent management to build and support a diverse workforce. She explained: "We spend a lot of time of the urgent, but we don’t spend enough of the important – and we certainly don’t spend enough time on our people and talent management. There are simple things we can do to support our talent and make sure they are delivering on their potential." Jenkins urged managers to focus on realising the true potential of their talent pools, noting that the industry isn't good at talent management as a whole.
She added: "We celebrate one appraisal in a 12-month period, but we need to make sure any managers are ensuring they look after their teams and ensure they can bring themselves to work. If it is [managing] someone who is incredibly sensitive, it is about making them comfortable."
2 Ditch the myth of ‘man up’
'I was told to man up'
— Martin Robinson
Gender stereotypes were a key theme and the pressure to "perform" according to traditional models of masculinity was top of the agenda. Martin Robinson, co-founder and editor of The Book of Man, shared his experience of being told to display "alpha male" behaviours in the workplace: "In my last job, I was told to man up. I had just had a child and it was perceived that I was spending too much time looking after my infant."
It was an experience that Robinson found shocking, but it also provided the creative fuel for the launch of The Book of Man, a media platform that challenges traditional, hyper-masculine media ideals. Robinson added: "A lot of it struck me as unthinking leadership. There aren’t easy solutions to some of these problems, but it's important to address them."
The discussion underlined the fact that traditional ideas of success are alienating both men and women. Will de Groot, head of insight and co-founder of The Elephant Room and founder of MEND, a project that seeks to understand how social structures impact both men and women, holds many interviews with men on how they feel they are reflected in advertising. It is increasingly clear that there is so much that is not discussed when it comes to the real, lived experience of men, de Groot said, and many are struggling with their identity.
He went on: "Men are socialised to think and behave in certain ways. We also need to accept that people do genuinely know the difference between right and wrong, so we need to think carefully about how we are complicit in perpetuating certain stereotypes, whether we are talking about men or women."
According to de Groot, the model of masculinity typically relied on in advertising is very much rooted in the past. The challenge comes in building a new framework of masculinity that is fit for the future.
3 Draw a line in the post-#MeToo era
'The worst thing we can do is back people into corners'
— Will de Groot
The need to ensure that both men and women are engaged in an active convesation to eradicate sexual harrassment was another key theme. UM managing partner of strategy Sophia Durrani said it was vital that everyone understands that the minute someone feels uncomfortanle, that is where you draw the line. She explained: "We need to start making sure we have the conversation. That the TimeTo code of conduct is communicated across the industry."
De Groot said that #MeToo has arrived at a critcial juncture of culture and questions are being asked of men for the first time. He went on: "There is a sense of urgency [to addressing sexual harrassment], but there is also a lot of thought that needs to go into it and the worst thing we can do is back people into corners." He urged the industry to think about more inclusive ways to connect and bring men into the conversation.
The panel also addressed the thorny issue of non-disclosure agreements, which have historically prevented an open and transparent conversation on the impact of sexual harrassment.
Havas London and Havas Helia chief executive Xavier Rees urged senior leaders who don’t agree with the company or network approach to such agreements to be prepared to have that difficult conversation: "The danger is the norm is maintained by thinking that [an NDA] is the default position. Organisations that might have put a policy in historically [ie used NDAs as a default response] might be more open to being challenged on it."
Jenkins said the conversation surrounding NDAs had to happen at "the absolute apex of business". Pointing to the work of Wacl and LinkedIn in addressing this issue, she said the conversations need to happen on a chief executive level: "This is about senior leaders taking action to create change and asking the awkward questions."
She also urged the industry to have top-down mandated policies to eradicate secxual harrasment. For example, ensuring that all staff go to a TimeTo meeting. Jenkins added: "We know that it's nuanced, but we have to sit down with our teams and have those big conversations and small conversations. When you see bad behaviour, call it out, escalate it, act on it."
4 Recognise the barriers women still face in their careers
'We have created an environment where it is really, really difficult for even the most bloody-minded women to thrive in'
— Sophia Durrani
In an articulate and impassioned overview of the challenges facing millennial mothers in advertising, Durrani lifted the lid on the cultural, economic and social challenges women face today.
She said: "Childcare costs have gone up by 52% in the last decade, while wages have only gone up 13%. The education system in this country is 9am to 3pm. Who works 9am to 3pm?" In addition, Durrani questioned why the average after-school club closes at 5.45pm in a city where the average commute is 73 minutes long. Or why the transport system favours full-time workers and women are still bearing the domestic load at home.
Durrani added: "When you compound those barriers with erratic hours, we have created an environment where it is really, really difficult for even the most bloody-minded women to thrive in. As an industry, we have to recognise the cultural barriers [women face] – a little bit of empathy goes a long way." She concluded: "It is up to all of us to come together to make a change."
5 Lean in to difficult conversations
'We are all learning as we go'
— Xavier Rees
Leaning in to difficult and potentially awkward conversations about gender diversity was another key theme. Rees shared the fact that when he said yes to the very first Wacl discussion on sexual harassment, both men and women contacted him to say it wasn’t wise to sit on that panel. He explained: "It was a real eye-opener to me, as it showed me how important it is to get together as men and women to encourage people to engage in positive ways."
Across the industry, acknowledging and addressing the gender pay gap was at the top of these difficult conversations. As Rees noted, it was a "very active conversation at Havas".
It is easier to create a faster pace of change on the gender pay gap in smaller organisations, he conceded: "If you are in a network, the question is where can you grow in the right way and bring in senior women."
Noting that "growth fuels change", Rees shared that it is very difficult to address the pay gap in an organisation that isn't growing: "Those of you who are in organisations where you can influence, I would urge you to sign up for the Creative Equals Equality Standard, as it helps you identify active and subconscious gender discrimination."
The discussion also focused on how individuals can address the gender pay gap. De Groot recognised that talking about money is always awkward and urged the audience to find a way to quantify their value. "It is not a conversation we are taught to navigate," he said. "There is a secrecy surrounding budgets. How money moves and work within agency structures is shrouded in secrecy – money is power and people want to hold on to that."
De Groot added that the gender pay gap should be approached with nuance: "When we talk about women as a homogenous group, it can be very reductive, especially when you consider the BAME pay gap. Really, if things are going to change, we need to understand that it is a far more complex issue that encompasses race and culture."
6 Embracing vulnerability
'Vulnerability is key to bridging the gender divide in the workplace'
— Stephanie Matthews
The importance of people showing their vulnerability in the workplace was another much-discussed topic. According to Matthews, what both men and women have in common is vulnerability. She explained: "By unpicking these, we can begin to understand how and why people think and behave in the way that they do. This is key to bridging the divide in the workplace and allowing everyone to thrive."
Jenkins underlined the importance of "powering up" your workforce to help bridge the gender divide. "We have to ensure that everyone’s potential is being met," she said, noting that the industry is making progress, but there remains a risk that people from a more priviledged background will start pushing back. "There is a lot of awareness, but what we haven’t seen is that huge shift in everyone moving forward based on merit and potential."
To meet the potential of this "tipping point", Jenkins urged the industry to be honest and transparent in exactly what is meant by "diversity" and introduce policy changes that will deliver meaningful change.
To accelerate change in the industry, Bloom has launched The Exchange. Under the initiative, women who are part of Bloom and are senior but not yet at a board level will mentor C-suite men on how best to retain female talent within their company and ensure a more equal workplace. In return, the men will mentor those from Bloom on how to overcome the barriers to leadership in their own career. Apply here.
Picture credit: Bronac McNeill