Measuring gender equality is not enough – it's time to act

Conscious Advertising Network co-founders: Jake Dubbins and Harriet Kingaby
Conscious Advertising Network co-founders: Jake Dubbins and Harriet Kingaby

Five ways to drive progress, by co-founders of the Conscious Advertising Network.

The newly published IPA Agency Census is shocking, revealing just how much women have borne the brunt of Covid-related staff cutbacks. 

No wonder half of women fear gender equality is going backwards. Yes, backwards, in 2021. 

A recent Mumsnet survey paints a picture of women at breaking point, more likely to be furloughed or lose their jobs; working full time while undertaking the lion’s share of home-schooling and housework.

The consequences of this for our businesses and society will be seismic. Without the voice of women at decision-making level in business and government, essential perspective will be lost. 

The innovative thinking and calculated risk-taking that will be essential to advertising’s recovery from the global pandemic will only see half of the problem, tell half of the story.

Things were bad already – a recent survey found that while women now hold more than a third of roles in the boardrooms of Britain’s top 350 companies, men still dominate the highest levels of business.

The vast majority (86%) of those female company directors occupy non-executive roles, which tend to be lower paid than executive positions, and involve less day-to-day responsibility for running the business.

In politics, only 27% of the Members of the House of Lords are women, 34% of MPs are women and six of the current members of the Cabinet (27%) are women. 

We can’t help but ask: if we had more women in positions of power, would the Mumsnet survey say something different?

Despite commitments to the contrary, the advertising industry doesn’t look so different. 

Last year’s Creative Equals’ Diversity Tracker found that women were twice as likely as men to report unfair treatment during the first six months of 2020, with 16% of women feeling this way – rising to 22% of working mothers – compared with only 7% of men.  

And now we have the IPA Agency Census, which shows that the number of women employed full time in member agencies fell by 13%, while the number of full-time male employees was down 8%. 

The number of women in C-suite positions also fell this year, from 34% last year, to 32% this year – 8% short of the target the IPA set itself in 2016, of 40% women in senior positions by 2020. We are going backwards.

Without prejudicing the results, it is highly likely that these figures will be reinforced when the wider industry reports as part of the “All In” census that took place on 10 March. 

The Conscious Advertising Network and all our members, from GSK to O2, from Creative Equals to Brand Advance, hugely support the efforts of the industry to measure the current landscape.

What we want to see from the industry is action. It’s important to measure the state of play, but confronted with such stark figures, we need to get on with solving the problem. 

To be blunt, it felt uncomfortable for us that the “All In” survey was revealed earlier this year at RESET 2021, where the AA, ISBA and the IPA came together for their first conference. 

The announcement was made by three organisations where six of the seven key leaders are men.  

Both the CEO / director-general roles are held by men and the president roles are all held by men. Female representation at the top sits solely with PHD’s Philippa Brown.

It hasn’t always been this way. Elizabeth Fagan of Boots was the previous ISBA President, and Sarah Golding was the last president of the IPA. 

Dame Cilla Snowball became the first female chair of the Advertising Association in 2012 (in the 90 years before, no chair had ever been a woman).

Five ways to drive change

As an organisation led by a man and a woman, who have seen the benefits of joint leadership and complementary perspectives, we are calling on all organisations in our industry to make some commitments:

1. Measure 

Hopefully by now you will have taken part in the "All In" census. Commit to taking part in all future censuses. If everyone takes part every time, it will deliver a defining picture of diversity and inclusion within the advertising sector. It should also measure either progress or indeed regression.

As AA President Keith Weed says: “We treasure what we measure.” Culture minister Caroline Dinenage has also said: “The All In campaign will help ensure our advertising industry is built inclusively.” Play close attention to the results when they are out. 

2. Make a roadmap

There is no shame in not being perfect. One of the core principles of the Conscious Advertising Network is that membership is a statement of intent to improve, not a declaration of perfection. If we wait until we’re perfect to publish our figures, we’ll wait too long. 

Make a roadmap, an action plan, get people across the business excited about the benefits this will bring to your business. And benefit from the enhanced staff morale and business performance diverse voices bring to the table.

3. Promote women now

If you have a director-general / president structure, do one of two things: appoint co-presidents of different genders, with a clear timeline; or if the director-general is male, appoint a female president. If you have a male-dominated board, promote women to it. 

We’re already seeing examples of men challenging “manels”, and calling for change. Take Ben Terrett, the male nomination for D&AD president, who ruled himself out of the role last year, as an example. Ensuring we have women’s voices at the very top is a clear signal that your business takes equality seriously. 

4. Embrace intersectionality

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in three years of setting up a cross-sector initiative that looks at (among other things) global advertising, human rights, diversity, disinformation, the worst political conspiracy narratives and the technical complexities of ad-fraud, it’s the value of diversity. Of background, ethnicity, thought, of lived experience.

Promoting women will fix some of the problems, but ensuring genuine diversity of leadership means thinking bigger too.

5. Use the free tools already out there

  • Commit to eradicating sexual harassment. A survey by UN Women UK reported recently that 97% of 18- to 24-year-old women have said they had been sexually harassed. This is an absolute scandal. An emergency. Sign up to  
  • Diversify your events. The Dice Charter is the place to go to to ensure your events and conferences reflect the audiences they serve -
  • Review the CAN Diversity and Inclusion manifesto. Written by Creative Equals founder Ali Hanan and CAN director and WFA inclusion and diversity ambassador Jerry Daykin, it guides brands and agencies to ensure you eradicate bias from briefs, casting media buys and more -

Trust us, the benefits will be huge. 

CAN was set up with a mission to ensure the ethics catches up with the technology of modern advertising. For us, this starts at leadership level, and works its way down. After three years of running the initiative with shared male and female leadership, we’ve come to value the balance and perspective different outlooks can bring to decision making.  

The organisation would be very different (and less successful) if it was headed up by just one of us. It’s taken hard work, long conversations and multiple “epiphany moments”, and we encourage all organisations to take this moment to commit to elevating the women in our industry to the places they should rightfully be.  

We need to prepare for a new, post-Covid world that will be what we make it. Let’s make it equal. 

Jake Dubbins and Harriet Kingaby are co-founders of the Conscious Advertising Network


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