How is advertising addressing the lack of women and diversity in senior roles?

A personal perspective by Talon’s Sandra Hernandez

What’s the issue?

With International Women’s day recently drawing on the importance of female representation and empowerment, it prompted me to consider this topic in the context of the advertising workforce and my very own journey as a female and ethnic minority. This has clearly been a hugely documented subject, one our industry recognises and magnifies in the interest of change.

The lack of female and diverse representation in senior roles still loiters in the lower percentages. According to the 2015 reports from Lord Mervyn Davies, the government’s champion of gender equality in the boardroom, women hold 23.5% of FTSE 100 directorships. In advertising, according to IPA Census, women still only account for 38 per cent of all other executive management positions and 27 per cent of board level roles.

With the limelight well and truly on these figures, I’m confident we can only expect to see positive steps.

It’s obvious that women are just as capable at senior level as men, notwithstanding the basic human right of equal opportunities to progress, there are case studies, research and stats to support that it makes financial business sense to have a more diverse team in camp.

According to McKinsey, companies across all sectors with the most women on their boards of directors significantly and consistently outperform those with no female representation by 56 per cent in terms of operating result. Given that women account for 85% of all purchase decisions in the UK, according to The Guardian, it would make sense to load your team up with representation of the very people you are trying to sell to.

In advertising, with women in more than half of junior agency roles, why do we see such a significant drop off when it comes to leadership positions? It seems that the most common barrier will be starting families, according to research by Opportunity Now, 82% of women recognise that balancing work and family is a real barrier. Over half of them believed that they were seen as less committed to work due to their family commitments.

It’s not just about family; some women choose not to have them at all and still struggle. The research also showed barriers such as confidence, stereotyping, lack of opportunity, and perception from male counterparts that women are less capable of performing. The above factors all play a role in women not feeling empowered enough to succeed.

But I think those who do have the ambition can sometimes fall victim to a different form of stereotype. Some women feel that they have to adapt the way in which they behave in the office in order to be heard. Does that come across as ambitious or just aggressive? IES Research conducted in 2009 stated that women can find themselves in a doublebind situation; while there is an assumption to adopt a more masculine management style at board level, women who feel forced to do so can find that this is judged as inappropriate and counts against them.

This perception/stereotype can lead many of us to shy away from the idea of competitiveness. In my opinion, aspiring to achieve your goals doesn’t have to be an aggressive, bra burning exercise. Quite the opposite, as management styles, in the workforce, have really evolved over the past 10 years to encourage leadership from more of a personable and lead by example approach.

Is change being addressed?

The great news is that the industry really are reacting to these figures, with some really important players in the market helping frontline this growth. Some of which, have helped in my own career developments.

With the likes of WACL (Women in Advertising and Communications, London) pioneering since 1923, we have seen real role models emerge and play their part in inspiring the next generation of women, like myself. At the recent IPA Women of Tomorrow Awards (in partnership with Campaign Magazine), thirteen women were recognised for their exceptional work and contribution to the industry. This included Manning Gottlieb OMD’s Head of Client Teams Claire Marker, whom I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in action at close quarters. Omnicom Media Group, through their support of WACL, embodies strong female representation and empathises with the importance of diversity in the industry, spearheaded by senior leaders Sam Phillips and Philippa Brown.

When you look at ethnic minorities, the numbers are even smaller – just 13% of agency staff, according to IPA studies. This is despite proof that in selecting a diverse group of individuals, quality, creativity and solutions of output dramatically increase. This is also a point that “the Great British Diversity Experiment” aims to prove when their research is released in conjunction with BBH in April. Also supported by the IPA, this was conducted by recruiting a hugely diverse team to work on a challenging creative brief to showcase the opportunities of quality in innovative thinking when a team from all walks of life come together.

These studies are not going untracked. IPA tasked the industry with reaching specific targets on gender and ethnic diversity representation, to be achieved by 2020. These include 40% female representation in senior positions and 15% BAME. Companies across the industry have pledged to promote and actively participate in ensuring awareness is raised on the agile working policies. Achieving these targets would be impressive – by passing the 30 per cent mark, we are no longer considered a minority and, only then, can we have a true cultural impact.

My personal Journey

I grew up in a South American family, where my parents held three jobs each to ensure that you had the best possible start in life, education and career. Equality was a bit of a buzz word in my household; they didn’t always feel they were given it.

With a strong female role model, I learnt that ambition, leading by example, and learning from others were powerful tools that can be adapted in all walks of life. I was also taught to embrace my cultural diversity and that it could only ever add value, a unique dimension and perspective to anything I was involved in. I now find this is an ethos my employer Talon truly embraces and celebrates.

Catherine Gray, Creative Director @ MRY, believes that “Women in advertising need to have higher expectations of themselves, because in this industry, no one ever takes you aside and says, ‘What’s the next step? Let’s set goals’.” I could not agree more that self-worth and expectations are paramount, though I think there are companies that will identify that spirit and actively help in your development. This can only benefit the company’s performance in the long run, right?

I’ve had the privilege of working closely with some excellent female managers throughout my career. These women have shown gravitas, been fair, talented, respected, shown real personality and really promoted the nurturing of younger talent in the industry. Not to mention that some have been mothers and juggled that work life balance to an impressive level of precision.

The importance of having role models, and a company that truly offers a fair playing field, has made all the difference in my own motivation and career expectations. Talon was listed 10th in The Sunday Times Best 100 Small Companies to Work For in 2016.  In order to win such a prestigious accolade, Talon was measured against key engagement drivers that included leadership, wellbeing and personal growth. One of the things that Talon have done very well is drawing on individual perspectives with the belief that this adds value to the business and makes for an atmosphere where people are shown respect. Looks like mum was right.

Whilst I believe the advertising industry is in a fantastic place to arm women with the support, opportunities and resource to grow, I also think we hold as much personal responsibility to aim for more. Should we continue to empower each other, the strength will come in numbers and that is what will get us over the 40% mark and beyond. I hope to be part of that journey.

Sandra Hernandez is a Client Director at Talon. With nearly 9 years’ worth of experience in the advertising industry, she has worked across the Diageo business at Carat Global and Independent agencies within Kinetic. Key accounts, at Talon, include Virgin Media, Virgin Trains, John Lewis and Renault.