Are we there yet? EP+Co's MD on men's 'discomfort' of gender imbalance

Every week, we ask industry insiders across all job levels and titles to share personal stories about equality, diversity and inclusion in adland. We know we're not there yet, but we want to document the highs and lows as the industry slowly transforms for the better.

Karen Mawhinney
EVP, managing director

Tell us about one thing that’s happened recently that leads you to believe there’s still a problem.

I imagine many women would admit to experiencing some gender imbalance every day at the office. It isn’t always egregious harassment or clear cut discrimination. Oftentimes it is the little things. Noticing that only women are chosen to fill in at reception. Seeing a room full of only men in a client meeting. Only women cleaning up the meeting rooms and acting as hostess to clients. Recognizing a lack of diversity in agency materials.

I am very proud that more and more of our women (and men, by the way) feel empowered to point out these daily gender imbalances. However, I am concerned there is discomfort among some men when the imbalances are noted.

As our women are feeling a greater sense of belonging, are our men feeling alienated and unwelcome? If so, then there is definitely a problem. We all have to be comfortable when our blind spots are pointed out. It’s not an accusation or an attack. It is the only way to start to build a balanced, equitable workplace where women see the same opportunities for success as men.

How about something that proves we are making progress?

Organizations big and small are increasingly recognizing these challenges, and are taking actions to create a more inclusive, diverse workplace for all.

At EP+Co, we have instituted programs to empower women and give them a voice to speak up about these daily inequalities. Last Spring we started a local chapter of IPG’s Women’s Leadership Network. We enrolled a group of our women leaders in a year-long training and development program targeted to the specific needs and challenges of women in leadership. We also offer a benefits program to better support working families.

These are steps in the right direction, but there is still significant opportunity to change the daily workforce dynamic.

What else needs to be done to get there?

Now we must create work environments that not only empower women to speak out, but help all of us feel more comfortable and open when the unconscious biases underlying our daily work life are brought to the forefront.

Leadership must be educated on their responsibility to recognize unconscious bias within themselves and their teams. They must also be held accountable for creating a culture where we are not only comfortable identifying the bias, but also demonstrate a willingness to listen and take action when we are identified as the one with the bias. 

It is also critical that we bring men along with us on this journey so that they are open to feedback and rethinking traditional ways. I am inspired that so many of our Women’s Leadership Network events are attended by men. But I know we can and must do more, and I am excited to keep pushing us.

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