“We’re still talking about this?”

 

Last year, Foresight Factory partnered with Advertising Week to carry out a landmark piece of research looking at gender equality in the American creative, media & advertising industry. The premise? That gender inequality is real. That a lack of female representation in top-levels of organisations affects the career growth of women working in the media and creative industry. And that the lack of gender diversity affects a campaign’s ability to resonate with its key audiences – a particularly sticky issue when female purchasing power is on the rise. This year, we took second look to see what, if anything, has changed in the last 12 months? We also brought the conversation out of the office and into the work the industry creates, asking “do women see their lives accurately reflected in advertising?” Today, I joined top female executives Rebecca Mahony from Media IQInga Stenta at ReebokSarah Wood, CEO of Unruly and Heidi Andersen from LinkedIn on stage at Advertising Week New York to discuss the findings and share our perspectives on female pressures and opportunities, a 360 perspective.

So have things improved? Not really. Last year, a meager 23% of women in the advertising industry believed their pay was equal to their male peers. Now, we see this has fallen to only 18%. More worryingly nearly 60% of men think there is equal pay. Just this one disparity in perspectives illustrates why we’re still talking about this and for good reason.

 

The greatest character in storytelling: the woman

When you consider EY’s prediction that 80% of discretionary household spend will be in the hands of females by 2028, it’s clear there’s considerable commercial opportunity for brands that genuinely connect with women. Inga Stenta of Reebok spoke about being a dual gender brand and “putting her first” as a key pillar in the sports brand’s strategy, citing a 1.5x growth potential just by focusing on women in their storytelling. It’s still difficult terrain to navigate though, and even brands like Dove which are celebrated for their marketing to women sometimes get it wrong. It’s critical to understand that 90% of women from our Advertising Week research want to buy a brand that reflects their values and Madison Avenue has a lot more to do on this front. One of the other findings from this new study which surprised us, is that two in five executives feel the work their industry produces ‘rarely reflects real people’s lives’. While tackling this is a long road, at least we know where to start. Rebecca Mahony highlighted research discussed in Cannes, which points to four times as many men being shown in advertising as women.

 

The onus is on the C-suite

“Politicans will come and go.” – Sarah Wood

 

The current dominant male administration in the US and Trump’s stance on women’s issues has triggered many to ask if the onus falls to businesses to provide the right environment for gender equality? While Sarah Wood, Co-Founder & CEO of Unruly believes that change is possible at every level, she also says making gender inclusivity a priority for the C-suite means change happens faster. Need proof? In Wood’s tech company, an industry that’s typically very male-driven, 48% of the employees are female, as are 44% of board members.

Our survey points to the other strategies that businesses need to consider to diversify their boardroom. There’s a 10% increase in respondents that agree that the industry would benefit from having a quota for women at board level. What we see here is twofold: a demand for a target to nurture female potential and a recognition that having women in the C-suite will help companies be relevant to their audiences by diversifying decision-making. So while our panelists have championed various tactics for increasing gender diversity at work, for example mentorship, hiring for gender diversity and celebrating women’s achievements, the key to avoiding a circular debate is really to take responsibility – regardless of gender.

Heidi Anderson of LinkedIn suggested that men should also feel comfortable addressing gender bias in an office, even on behalf of women. Sarah Wood highlighted the need for companies to celebrate individuality in general, and how that mindset would naturally promote women too.

 

What’s in store for the future for young women?

Clearly, there’s a lot of room for improvement but the 50% of 18-29 year old women that believe the media, advertising and creative industries are taking a proactive approach to ensure gender diversity inspires us to take a more optimistic view of the future. With a workforce so motivated, where 90% of advertising executives from our study that feel the need to lead at work, what advice can be shared with younger females?

One of the greatest arguments to keep this conversation going is that females don’t necessarily know how to align professional aspirations that with motherhood and family life and sometimes, we impose our own glass ceiling. We can also see from our Advertising Week survey data that there is a demand for companies to support this journey: 80% of men and 89% of women that agree that the US should adopt nation-wide policies that encourage longer maternity leave or shared parental leave. This is not a conversation just for females but for men too.

Heidi Anderson says that “there’s no better time for women to be in the workforce” and her advice to other women is “go do”. I know from the incredible female leaders on our panel today, the number of sessions on the agenda at Advertising Week and the findings of our research that the ground swell for women to succeed is building. The question now is will the advertising and media industry now act on it? We’ll be back to ask the men and women of ad land next year.

 

 

This article was first published on LinkedIn