Are we there yet? TBWA's Tessa Conrad calls for more women to take the stage

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.

Tessa Conrad
Global director of operations
TBWA Worldwide

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

Coming out of Cannes where I was a first-time jury member for the Innovation category, I was stoked and impressed at their gender balanced juries. Asking around, everyone felt it was an important message to send to the industry and outside -- plus it leads to more diverse and thorough deliberation.

That said, I was disappointed to not see many women up on stage at the award shows to have their "I did this!" moment of winning. I’m not sure if it’s that women aren’t leading the Cannes-winning creative at the most senior levels, or aren’t sent to Cannes, but either way, it’s a problem and it’s the responsibility of all agencies to fix it.

Most agencies clearly haven’t made bold enough strides to keep up. Whether it’s making sure to send women that led great work (as the winner, not a token), giving women the chance at the top briefs, recruiting more female talent or ensuring we’re growing strong creative leaders that just happen to be women -- we’ve got work to do and it’s time to buckle down and get it done, no excuses.


How about something that proves we’re making progress?

Open communication is where everything needs to start, followed up quickly by implemented actions; not just rhetoric. It’s great to see companies embracing more open dialogue and I think now the power is in the employees’ hands more than ever when it comes to making and insisting on change.

At TBWA I’m proud of our global "Take the Lead" initiative to boost women in power (women now comprise 42 percent of leadership roles at TBWA globally, up from 36 percent in 2015) alongside the "Circle of Women" pilot initiative in NYC to bolster training, coaching and career planning. It says something when you see new leadership positions, promotions and training directly impacting how diverse your company looks. When a company puts their time, power and money where their mouth is rather than focusing on capturing the "right" headlines, I think it’s a good sign they are on the right path.


What else needs to be done to get there?

We need to get more grassroots in our work for equality. Some change can happen top-down but the majority of positive change needs to be pushed from the feet on the ground. People who are the ones in the work each day need to have room to raise suggestions and challenges to leadership and then be empowered to help make the changes a reality.

Also, when it comes to open communication I think we’ve got to be unafraid to have dissenting perspectives and uncomfortable conversations in the industry. Major change is rarely easy or comfortable and it’s important to have all voices heard when making a plan that affects us all.

Finally, we live in exciting times for women, which is great to see. That said, I hope we don’t lose sight of the many battles for equality that are still crucial for achieving total diversity. The fight for equality for our colleagues who are LGBTQ, people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities - anyone facing adversity, is also our fight and we must not lose sight of that while we make progress on one front.

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