A viral blog post exposing misogony and misconduct in the global advertising industry has prompted a closer look at the role of women in the Australian landscape.
Following the article, written by brand strategist Zoe Scaman and titled Mad Men. Furious Women.a group of marketers released a statement to warn industry stalkers.
Now AdNewswith the help of gender equality advocate Femeconomy, asked a range of leaders in branding, HR consulting and publishing to comment on the role of women in the advertising, media and marketing in Australia.
This includes representation in the boardroom and C-Suite, culture and future prospects.
Q: WGEA data shows that there are still pay gaps between full-time men and women, and C-suite representation is as low as 10.5% in some media categories. What’s behind all this?
Keeva Stratton, Director of Quip Brands
While it is well established that women dominate consumer decision-making, it is also well known that despite female-dominated marketing degrees, executives and department heads of many media and advertising companies remain overwhelmingly masculine. Why is this so? Like most problems of inequity, its causes are multiple and intersectional.
Media has always been seen as a cutthroat industry where only the fittest survive. And the standards of this “fitness” have clear historical roots – in gender, class and race.
With ego-driven media moguls, not just in the fictional realm of Citizen Kane, but in the real world of the Barclay brothers in the UK, the Berlusconis of Italy and, of course, the Murdochs of Australia, and beyond that – more polished newspaper men and publicists were the industry standard.
Even the modern incarnation of mainstream media, the major social media companies, are owned by men, from Zuckerberg to Dorsey to Spiegel. In each generation, white males have continued to dominate and wield the financial power behind the mediums that shape the message.
If one also considers that advertising is – despite all the protests – historically more of a selling space than the creative image it now prefers to possess, one can better understand why the industry has attracted a specific form of emboldened masculinity. .
This sales culture — which has rewarded long hours, a can-do attitude, and seemingly endless dedication to work — is certainly one that has struggled to embrace women, as well as a diversity of men. If the advertisement had been more creative from the start, we can perhaps assume that this would not have been true.
Perhaps the biggest lesson here is that a lack of diversity always breeds the same, which is why I think it’s taken women so long to break through.
But today, the heart of our industry is changing, although more slowly than most of us would like. Creative skills are gaining in value, and the hope is that as our industry leans more towards an idea economy – where creativity and depth of thought are more critical to earnings – it will temper its testosterone and be a welcome space for leadership diversity.
Unfortunately, dinosaurs don’t disappear overnight, and entrenched norms and old ways don’t easily budge, but hopefully the ongoing evolution will see a shift not just in gender dominance, but also in age, race, culture. and identity, so that the people creating the message better reflect who we really want to receive it.
Q: Has there been an improvement in leadership in the agency landscape?
Leah Morris, Founder of Mavens
In 2016, a report by industry body The Agency Circle found that at the C-suite (President/CEO/MD) level, there were only 16% women, while men held 84% of posts. In 2019, the Communications Council (now Advertising Council of Australia) salary report found that there were only 27% women in senior management, compared to 73% men.
So to answer the question I would say “We went from just 16% women in the C suite in 2016 to 27% in 2019”. This figure may or may not have been affected by Covid-19, as we know the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on women. Anyway, we are making progress, but there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of equal representation within the management of the agency.
Q: How does this compare to the wider representation of women in the Australian business landscape?
Alanna Bastin-Byrne, Director of Femeconomy
Each year, Femeconomy examines the percentage of female leadership in approximately 1500 brands. In 2016, 722 brands had at least 30% women on the board of directors or were 50% owned by women. This year over 870 are endorsed by Femeconomy, so we are seeing an increase in female leadership.
However, although this year 37 brands became approved by the Femeconomy, for example Nike, Levi’s and JB Hi-Fi, 37 declined, including Cotton On, AIG Insurance and Jigsaw.
Companies seem to hit the 30% target and stop there. This means that if they lose a single woman from the board, they fall back below the threshold.
30% is a tipping point. Research shows that this is where voices that are part of the minority are heard in their own right, rather than just representing a minority.
We know that businesses run by women are more likely to employ women. A company with a female founder and a female manager will employ 6 times more women. These companies increase women’s participation in the workforce, are more likely to have flexibility in the workplace, and less likely to have a gender pay gap, helping to advance gender equality in the communities.
Q: What is the way forward for women in leadership and workplace misogony?
Katriina Tahka, CEO of a human agency
In my experience, many of the challenges surrounding women’s leadership and the prevalence of misogyny and harassment in the advertising industry are similar to issues in the legal industry. You are dealing with an established, powerful and profitable industry. Advertising has a huge influence on social behaviors and attitudes, just like the country’s legislators and legal professionals. Those in power are therefore very influential both inside and outside their profession.
Positions of power have been created and enabled by a traditional hierarchical approach to labor and leadership. What we still see today is gender balance in relevant tertiary courses, entry-level jobs, and mid-career roles. But when it comes to the C-suite and the steep climb to the top of the mountain, the industry starts to seem extremely male-dominated and any sense of gender balance fades. It’s no wonder places like the Australian Club still exist today.
So if there is a gender balance in early career roles, why are these issues still prevalent today? Because traditional attitudes and systems hostile to women still exist. Despite advances in modern thinking and the progression of community standards, culture change has not occurred at the top of many organizations.
To achieve culture change, you must critically examine and then change both behavior and the systems and processes that allow toxic or crippling behaviors to continue.
Issues that continue to affect women include:
⦁ integrated perception of women as primary caregivers in the family
⦁ excessive focus on women’s need to take career breaks during childbearing years, and
⦁ greater attention paid to the appearance of women (compared to their male colleagues).
Leaders who are serious about improving the role of women in the workplace must start by focusing on workplace culture, not numbers. Too many companies focus on “diversity data” and count the number of women working there and their efforts stop there. Counting men and women is like filling Noah’s ark…
Culture change takes bravery and a willingness to hold the mirror up. Any organization or leader truly committed to improving the status quo needs to hear about the lived experiences of the people who work there at all levels of the organization as well as the people who left or didn’t want to work there in the first place.
That’s why the stories of Brittany Higgins and the women who spoke out in the #metoo movement are so popular. Because personal revelations about the good, bad and ugly of working there are far more revealing than an Excel spreadsheet.
Once a leader or organization is aware of the true state of negative workplace culture and behaviors and norms, they must commit to changing them. Regarding the perception of women as primary caregivers and not being equally engaged in their careers compared to men, this is an opportunity to work with men as allies.
A lot of research confirms that modern men also want to be actively involved in their family and take care of their children. We need to take a gender-neutral approach to supporting parental leave and encouraging male role models to come forward.
Finally, bad behavior cannot be excused or swept under the rug. For many years, the inappropriate conduct of powerful and profitable senior men has been conveniently overlooked – but in today’s climate, the long-term damage to brand and reputation will far outweigh any short-term profitability.
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