Men need to find their voice in the gender-equality conversation

Men need to find their voice in the gender-equality conversation

The ad industry cannot exist without collaboration, yet when it comes to gender equality that collaboration is usually solely by women.

What do the best campaigns, projects, networks and businesses have in common? Effective leadership, talent, fresh thinking combined with experience? All of these have value, but nothing beats teamwork and collaboration – two things that have proved more challenging than usual as we navigate a global pandemic. 

Most, if not all, successes are down to talented individuals working together towards a shared goal. A study by Stanford University found collaboration to be a defining aspect of human society – one that inspires motivation and can even turn work into play (or at least feel like it).

In both the technology and advertising industries, we’ve seen a revolution in women championing other women, working together and founding support networks like the one I’m part of, the Futures Network.

Founded in 2014, the Futures Network thrives on supporting and inspiring women who want to lead with purpose. There are many others like us with their own goals, such as Wacl, Creative Equals, Bloom, SheSays and Working Girl, as well as groups formed within corporate businesses. And I’m glad to say we’ve seen progress through active voices and initiatives being set up to create change and carve a better path forward for the next generation to thrive. 

With that said, we’ve seen from the IPA’s 2020 Agency Census that gender diversity is making slow progress and agencies are still not reaching the organisation’s target to have 40% women at C-suite level. On a (slightly) more positive note, women in mid-management roles have increased by 3.8%. Which got me thinking: what could we do to help make those numbers better? What are the barriers?

There are two things that concern me. 

1 Where are the men?

The ad industry cannot exist without collaboration; we rely on it and benefit from it in equal measure. Yet, when it comes to gender equality, that collaboration is usually solely by women.

Most, if not all, of the networks or internal groups mentioned above were set up by women and those initiatives spearheaded by women. Committees are formed featuring only women, mostly speaking to other women. An article by Matthew Keegan in Campaign suggests that exclusivity is set up by default, as men struggle to connect with gender bias given it’s not an issue that is relevant to their careers. How many times have you heard a man join a new business and ask how they can help with diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

My point here is not to throw an accusation but instead remind male colleagues in the industry that you are part of the journey we are taking for equality in the workplace. 

I understand the barriers – male colleagues have said to me they feel like an imposter, unqualified to campaign for changing a system that has benefited them so greatly – but I say: join us. Champion us and we’ll champion you back. We can achieve more and faster with you on board. This can’t happen simply with direction from senior leadership; in fact, it needs to be encouraged at a peer-to-peer level and become a common goal. 

2 The lack of male voices on diversity

I’ve had several men in senior roles speak to me privately and say: "I want to be vocal about diversity and have an opinion on it, but how can I? I’m a white male. It doesn’t look good." It raises a question: do men feel that they have had far too much privilege to be able to voice an opinion and join the gender-equality conversation? Again, I say: speak up on stages or write about it on behalf of everyone – you are welcome and needed in the conversation. 

Inclusivity is critical for the industry to grow and thrive. It requires all of us to be involved, vocal and proactive, no matter our backgrounds or how we got to where we are today.

The possibilities and opportunities we can create by working together for a shared goal of an inclusive, fairer industry will not just benefit the advertising sector but society as a whole. So I encourage men in the industry to speak up for diversity, show up at events run by female colleagues, read articles they write and be part of those committees, asking: "How can I help?" 

Visha Naul is co-founder of the Futures Network

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