Time's Up in Hollywood and everywhere

Businesses across industries need to make diversity, inclusion and gender equality transformative priorities, Lindsay Pattison says.

The 90th awards presentation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (The Oscars) were held on 4 March.

This year, it was both a big, glitzy show and a profound examination of diversity and inclusion issues in the film industry and the world at large.  

The show’s producers and presenters did a fantastic job advocating for diversity and inclusion across many dimensions, but gender equality stole the show following the pivotal #MeToo and #TimesUp movements which have dominated headlines since last year.  

We can likely agree that the most show-stopping moment was Frances McDormand’s brilliant display of solidarity with other women working in film, when she accepted her prize for "Actress in a Leading Role."

She asked for all female actors, directors, cinematographers and more to stand up with her and said, "Look around ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed. Don't talk to us about it at the parties tonight; invite us into your office; we'll tell you all about them."

It must have been amazing to be in the room, but it was also moving for those – like me – watching on television, and subsequently everyone who has seen the clip online.  During the show and into the next day, Twitter and news outlets exploded with exultation for McDormand.

The front page of the New York Post even proclaimed the evening "Ladies Night." It’s a tongue-in-cheek headline that should not be over-analysed.

However, we all must ensure that the impact of the powerful commentary at this year’s Oscars lives well beyond the show and however long the ceremony’s news cycle lasts.  

McDormand certainly intended it to be much more than a buzzworthy moment. Beyond a symbolic gesture stirring warm and fuzzy feelings, her speech was a clear call to action -- real action.

Her target audience: the people in power in Hollywood. 

She concluded her thanks saying, "I have two words to leave you with tonight - inclusion rider."

This likely left most viewers scratching their heads, "What is an inclusion rider?"  

The answer is quite simple. It refers to terms that may be written into a contract requiring certain diversity and inclusion thresholds are met in movies (or other projects).  

It’s relatively common knowledge that popular and award-winning actors enjoy certain influence in Tinseltown. Most often, this translates to an ability to command high salaries for themselves, but actors and actresses often use their power to other ends – how they are billed in marketing, selection of co-stars and even editing input to scripts.

With her Oscar win, McDormand’s power is given a big shot in the arm, and she clearly means to put it to clever use. She simply and pointedly asked that those with power, like her, to use that influence to help others.  

We should observe that most of the people calling for the equal treatment of women -- and an end to sexual harassment in Hollywood -- are women.

And McDormand’s stand-out moment happened when she was being recognized for accomplishment as a female actor.  

There seems no good reason to differentiate female actors from male actors when celebrating great performances.

After all, neither gender is inherently predisposed to doing a better job of drawing audiences into an immersive theatrical experience.  

But after 90 years of Oscars, the distinction between male and female artists continues.

As we puzzle the reasons why, let’s consider carefully the potential upside of looking at all actors singularly, without regard to their gender.  

The Best Director category is not differentiated by sex and there has only ever been one woman to win, Kathryn Bigelow for Hurt Locker in 2010.

This is an interesting fact. Arguably, the director of a film is the most powerful person on set, the leader. You could compare the film director role to that of a CEO and the producers of a film to his/her board of directors. With this analogy, we can easily compare a film production to corporations and see an all too familiar crisis of female representation at senior levels.

Hollywood is not alone in facing gender diversity and equality issues.  

Recognizing the pervasiveness of gender inequality, the UK government adopted gender pay gap reporting legislation taking effect in April this year.

This requires any organisation with 250 or more employees to publish specific figures about the differences in average pay between men and women. WPP and GroupM have already published their figures and none of us are happy with our results.  

At GroupM, we’ve isolated the reason for the average pay gap between men and women to be, very simply and sadly, the underrepresentation of women in our most senior ranks where salaries are naturally highest. This required no great feat of analysis.

Candidly, I quite often find myself in leadership meetings where I am the only woman and that’s not okay.

Of course, we’re not alone in this; the same is true in almost every industry. Consider that only 12% of board seats worldwide are held by women.

This is wrong on many levels. It’s not reflective of society, nor does it make business sense.

In fact, women control or influence the majority of consumer purchase decisions and more than half of all graduates in major markets are women.

It seems obvious that improving gender balance at senior levels is essential to attracting the best talent and creating the best work that connects with consumers.

So #TimesUp everywhere. And we all have to take responsibility for taking on this challenge head-on, transparently with commitment (this means dollars!).  

As chief transformation officer for GroupM, I have many priorities tied to the evolution of our business so it is future-fit.

Areas like a truly seamless integrated offer across of data, technology and digital to provide a single customer view, and change programs targeted at delivering simplicity to clients in an increasingly complex media world.

But alongside any capability transformation, we must drive cultural change. I am passionate to the point of pedantry on this point.

So right at the start of these priorities is the strategic expansion of our diversity and inclusion talent programme.  

We see this as imperative, not only because our clients have begun thinking about their own "diversity riders" (AKA supplier diversity programs), but also because diversity and equality in our workplaces are essential to attracting the kinds of people we want and need working in our business.  

I’m so tired of people just talking about gender equality, or "observing the issue" that we’ve created our own movement, Walk the Talk, which succeeded initially at Maxus in 2016 when I was global CEO, and is now being deployed across GroupM and WPP.

Through Walk the Talk, we’ve created a super powerful, empowered and vocal network of our most talented women.

We’re investing in their career development and encouraging them to visualize and create a ‘bigger game’ and then arming them with the tools and techniques to make the bold moves required to get there.  

And, importantly, we’re creating vehicles for them to share their message across the entire group, to male and female colleagues alike.

Walk the Talk has already helped hundreds of women worldwide to have more confidence, to step up and realize their full potential.

These are women not unlike Frances McDormand, aware of their worth, unafraid to speak their minds and willing and able to take action for themselves in other women across the company.  

We need more of this because the pace of change for women has just not been fast enough. Men reading this who may be feeling cautious or uneasy in how to interact with women may see the pace of change differently, but for women, progress has been veritably glacial.

This is why the movement is called #TimesUp. Indeed, time is up.   

What are you now doing about it?

Lindsay Pattison is chief transformation officer of GroupM


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