Now is the time to invest in female creative talent

Is Adam & Adam & Adam really the agency of our future?

I’ve got a really disruptive idea for an agency. Are you sitting down? Because I think this could really blow your mind…

This is the agency of the future. 

The agency that will act as a lightning rod for an industry that so desperately needs to recognise the power of inclusive creativity to fundamentally shift the course of business.

The agency that proves you can still make a shit tonne of money while making brilliant work that smashes outdated and toxic stereotypes.

An agency that is disrupting the status quo – by being it.

Maybe they will even put their names on the door. But in what order? Murphy, Golding and Heartfield? Or go for the creative acronym MGH? Or how about Adam & Adam & Adam? Or Adam & Steve?

The best person for the job

It’s OK, though, don’t get disheartened, because: "Heartfield was one of a number of contenders, many of them believed to be women." Phew, that’s all sorted then. Except, of course, it isn’t.

Heartfield may well be "the best person for the job", but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be disappointed by the lack of diversity at the top of one of the most hotly anticipated creative start-ups.

Not least because it is yet another reminder of the urgent need to address the lack of female leadership at the top of creative businesses.

Of course we aren’t advocating the demise of male creative directors or claiming that Heartfield wasn’t a standout. Yet, all too often, when top creative roles come up, the female talent within agencies is overlooked in favour of securing a name "on the door".

Yet data shows us time and again that men are hired for potential and women on existing skillsets. When you combine the fact that women are less likely to put themselves forward for promotion, that problem is exacerbated further.

The messy middle

As an industry, we need to be working much harder to retain and develop female talent in the "messy middle" of their careers. Our data shows that 12% of women are thinking of leaving the industry within the next two years – an incredible exodus of the talent we so desperately need to hold on to. 

We need to bust the myth that there isn’t enough female talent in our industry. To allow companies to view talking about a lack of female talent as a proxy for driving real and meaningful change in our industry. We know the talent is there, we see it everyday – we just need to support that talent and it will rise to the top.

We see so many women who are "stuck" at a creative director role. For years. One we know was an associate creative director for six years, with men promoted all around her and no good reason for her not to be promoted alongside them. 

If you want to hire on talent, you have to start with an inclusive culture. And it's not just about the "best person for the job", if they all look alike. It's about the best person for the team. One in which diverse voices are heard and supported, and their true potential realised. Where race and gender or any other aspects of identity are no obstacle to equitable pay, training and pitching.

The uncomfortable truth is that the best man for that big creative job you are currently hiring for may well be a woman sitting in your department: underpaid, overlooked and – unless you act quickly – about to walk right out of the door.

Ali Hanan is chief executive of Creative Equals

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