Why female creatives don't get to pitch

When pitching is so vital to career progression, research showing that almost half of female creatives have not been on a pitch over the last year must jump-start action on inclusivity.

Research from Creative Equals shows almost 45% of female creatives won’t have been put on a pitch over the last year compared to their male colleagues.

Many of us have a strong hunch about what goes on in the workplace. When you find out the hunch has a data backbone, insights drive action. That’s what the Creative and Media Equality Standard shows.

The new standard, launched this week in the UK and Australia, covers all aspects of diversity and inclusion, but the initial insights show just why women’s careers don’t progress in the same way as their male peers.  

Pitch success defines career progress

The new standard reveals two views: one view looks at a company’s policies, practices and behaviours across three areas: culture, people and equality. Next it compares this view with what staff think, comparing and contrasting the data.

With two sets of top-down, bottom-up data, you can see what’s working for various groups – and what’s not. One of the many data points centres around promotion criteria within creative departments. The outcome? Progression in most departments is closely associated with bringing home business wins (no surprises here, but read on).

Why pitch wins are career fuel

Pitches are where fast-paced, iterative client briefs give creatives the chance to fully flex their creative muscles. Consistently winning pitches secures your place on the A-team. The A-team forge strong alliances together, creating a "go-to" set of talents when the new business brief comes in.

When an up-and-coming creative team is put in on the pitch, these talents gain the chance to show off their ideas, craft and thinking in front of senior management, gaining trust and face-time. The pressure is intense, debates can be fierce, but bring the pitch home and there’s endless praise, the applause at the company meeting presentation and chance of leading the newly landed work. With that, comes the opportunity for career progression – and a pay rise.

But what if you don’t get on the pitch?

The data so far shows almost 45% of female creatives won’t have been put on a pitch over the last year compared to their male colleagues. The data categorically shows female creatives are put on gender-stereotypical briefs (beauty brands, fashion or food) or the company "bread-and-butter" accounts. Once on these steady accounts producing high-quality work within set brand confines, creatives are labelled a "safe pair of hands". Put on the commercial lens and you’ll also see this: when creatives are being consistently billed – and become integral to how a client is run – they’re less likely to be taken off an account for an intense pitch period.

Pitches amplify affinity bias

Back to a hunch, again beginning to be grounded in data: this A-team is often shaped by affinity bias. Pitches are often high-pressured, so it’s easy for leaders to defer to those who are more likely to agree with them – decisions under pressure requires an easy consensus. Accommodating for diverse sets of opinions – even though the creative solutions are better – can take longer and requires a leader who can facilitate the group effectively. Leaders cherry-pick their closest allies – and more often than not, it’s their male peers.

Class comes acutely into play too

This isn’t just a gender story. The data shows education and class comes into play too. One female creative told us her roots were in state school education. The company she was working in skewed to be 85% dominated by those who had been to a public school or a top university and, for her, most creative review sessions turned into a debate. For her, without the skills to argue for it, she felt her pitch-winning ideas were often talked down.

Happiness is being on a pitch

Data regression analysis shows happiness for most creatives is this opportunity to pitch – and gain feedback. Without these loop of being with the "in" creative crowd, women will score a business less across every touchpoint. What does that mean? They’re more likely to leave an agency – and, over time – the industry.

The data is the gold-dust  

Out of these insights comes the power for action and change. Solutions may seem obvious (mix up who is on pitches, mix up client teams, create walls for open briefs and more), but individual answers need the buy-in of to those throughout the creative process. They need to understand what goes on within their teams, how bias can ‘creep’ within a system and how inclusive leadership can change outcomes – and careers.  

So, for National Inclusion Week, do one thing. Start by understanding your diversity and inclusivity data. Then, create your road map. If every company could do this, just imagine how quickly we can become a diverse and inclusive industry.

The Creative and Media Equality Standard is a diversity and inclusion rating, review and road map for companies. "Finally, there is a credible and hard-working solution for companies to harness the power of diverse talent and their benefits to businesses," says Richard Robinson, managing partner of Oystercatchers.

The process gives companies and end-to-end strategy and framework across all areas of diversity, including LGBT+, BAME, neurodiversity, age, education, wellness diversity and ability across "culture", "people" and "equality".

"Launching the standard isn’t just the right thing to do morally, it’s the only smart thing to do when you look at it economically. Getting culture right internally equals creating the right culture that we as creative and media industry leaders influence, externally," says Bec Brideson, Creative Equals’ Australian partner.

Ali Hanan is the founder and chief executive of Creative Equals

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