Thursday 10th May was the time for uncomfortable conversations. The Marketing Society held a forum to push boundaries and make braver decisions, to help each other to address the toughest issues, this time on gender at work.
Chief executive Gemma Greaves introduced the session by talking about the time that I called her out on the gender diversity of The Marketing Society Conference in 2016. I’d praised the sessions at the conference in a blog for Campaign, but I had also counted and critiqued the gender balance on stage.
Shortly afterward she took over as chief exec of the society. And then she called me on my comment, by inviting me to be part of the organising committee for last year’s conference, where women were in the majority as speakers.
Since I published my book on gender equality at work, The Glass Wall, with co-author Kathryn Jacob in late 2016 I’ve been on the campaign trail to get change to happen.
I was therefore delighted to have the opportunity to speak at the Society's amazing brave series.
We wrote the book because statistics show that the number of women in senior positions across the UK is significantly less than 50% (women are 51% of the population).
The current IPA census on gender in agencies shows 31% c-suite roles are held by women (a figure that is better than some sectors, but hasn’t moved on in recent years).
Less than 15% of creative departments are run by women, and the number of women behind the camera for commercials is even lower. This is in a sector where 80% of purchase decisions are made by women consumers.
Across businesses in general 78% of businesses across the UK have declared a gender pay gap in favour of men.
This makes no sense.
It’s bad for profitability. The weight of evidence in favour of gender balance in senior management is huge. There are now many studies that prove that it leads to better decisions and better profit.
One simple way to boost your bottom line as a business is to have a greater proportion of women in the top team.
There is no shortage of talent. In many businesses the only place where women are in the minority is at the top table.
The session was full of lively debate, and indeed diverse opinions. Some shared their good experiences in this respect, including Gemma, saying that they hadn’t personally experienced any gender barrier to their careers.
The quantitative evidence in The Glass Wall from a survey by Lightspeed GMI is contrary to this with nearly 80% of women agreeing that women face barriers to success in the workplace that men do not.
And nearly 70% of men agree with them.
There were so many great points made by the audience that it feels a shame not to capture at least some of them in brief:
- The audience was shocked by one woman’s story that she was refused flexi working of 4.5 days when she returned from maternity leave.
- The wonderful role model Michele Oliver from Mars spoke about the importance of turning up for sports day at your child’s school whether you’re the mum or the dad, and indeed of speaking up to share experiences of your career as a working woman to set an example for girls at school.
- One member asked about extroversion and introversion as a diversity issue (a subject close to my introvert heart).
- We discussed the extra help new mums need and the importance of negotiating for what you want at work whether that is flexibility or indeed a pay rise.
- Funny Women's CEO Lynne Parker talked about the gender divide in what is and isn’t funny at work.
- Nancy Lengthorn from MediaCom raised the important issue of privilege, pointing out that many women who succeed have had the enormous benefit of a great education and a comfortable start in life. Diversity is about all kinds of inclusiveness and different backgrounds are an important factor. She also talked about the issue of change on the production side of the creative business where there just doesn’t seem to be any desire to make a change.
Here’s perhaps where Society members have power to make change happen today, this week - By asking about the gender balance of the teams involved in every stage of the production of marketing materials.
Other immediate changes can come from speaking up when you see people feeling excluded.
Taking a leadership position for change, mentoring and sponsoring women on the way up and mandating real targets for gender equality at senior positions.
Gemma ended the breakfast by saying that she felt now that the issue was so crucial that there would be a part two to talk about the actions we can all take to achieve real fairness and change.
I can’t wait – I hope to see you there.
By Sue Unerman, chief transformation officer, MediaCom. Follow her @SueU
Want to read more? Pick up a copy of The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business.