50/50 is equal yes? Turns out not to be equal at all.

50/50 is equal yes?

As ever, I was happy to be part of a Brave Conversation that matters this morning at the Society's Uncomfortable Breakfast. This time on the gender debate. 

Is it still a debate you might ask? Oh yes. 

Hold this simple fact in your heads. The population is split 50/50 (well, 51/49 female/male actually). But business simply doesn’t reflect it. Only 28% of FTSE boards are female (and a shocking 9% in executive rather than Non-Exec roles). The IPA reports that only 30% of agency leaders are female. Only 6% of UK Creative Directors are women.

In my last year of University, I had to write a ‘personal statement’ to try to get a graduate job in an agency. I think it was Ogilvy. Why did I want to work in advertising? One of the things I said was that I believed it was a meritocratic industry. I still think that (compared to some other sectors) it is. But turns out, many, many years later, there’s still work to be done. 

So what can we do about it?

Here are the thoughts and observations from the assembled, and diverse, throng. 

Change the Language

We don’t use language to our advantage. Women are not prone to boasting about their exploits or showing off to their peers, according to Sue Unerman who took us through some of the observations of the book she’s co-authored with Kathryn Jacob, The Glass Wall. Men do, and it sets them up for success.

Women tend to apologise for being there, or for doing well. Men don’t. See Lynne Parker of Funny Women’s excellent Guardian article on this.

And women tend to keep to themselves the argumentative voices in their heads. On the one hand is the voice that says ‘you need to leave this meeting and go to little Johnny’s sports day or everyone will think you’re a bad mother’. On the other, there is the voice that says ‘if you tell them you are leaving this meeting to go to little Johnny’s sports day they’ll think you are a bad boss/colleague/employee and you don’t care about your job’.

We applaud men who announce they’re going to the sports day – when in fact they are saying it to impress you. It’s called ‘value signalling’. So it’s about time that we started doing the same for women.

Change the Behaviour

We have to change our behaviour as women too. As Mitch Oliver of Mars put it.

We need to be much more visible, whether it’s speaking at careers evenings (rather than just organising them), speaking at conferences (even though it terrifies us) or volunteering to take on projects outside our comfort zones.

She also believes we need to be much more demanding – on pay, on promotion and on the behaviour of our colleagues. 

If men aren’t behaving properly we should call them out, not make a joke of it.

Finally, Mitch again, we need to be supportive. Many of the women in the room referenced bad female bosses, who having got to the top believe that behaving like an Alpha male is the only way to succeed. And who keep other women down as a result.

And finally, communication

Whether it’s sharing content that gives a shout out to good behaviour or creating case histories which demonstrate how working 4 or 3 days a week can work for the individual and the business we need to communicate what good looks like.

We should be sharing tips with each other via a mentoring scheme (Marketing Society take note!). We should be telling production companies that it’s not acceptable to have all-male teams. Or agencies either, given that 85% of consumer purchasing decisions are made by women.

We’re in the marketing industry for f’s sake. We should be communicating this.

Not just to a room of like-minded people, but to the world at large.


By Francesca Brosan, chairman & founder, Omobono