As a white, male leader it can be difficult to say the ‘right’ thing when it comes to gender diversity. I think that’s why many remain silent, rather than speaking out. With the backdrop of a brighter spotlight being shone on diversity, I am determined to join the ranks of the handful of male leaders roles that have broken their silence.
I believe that it is about time more men stepped up and played their part in pushing the diversity agenda. In fact, I would go so far as to say, that in a world where currently men dominate at the top of agencies and brands, the only way to drive meaningful change is for men to lean-in to change the conversation and demonstrate action.
The legacy culture within agencies that has existed for decades has traditionally been “laddish” and non-inclusive. Trading floors and creative departments are especially guilty. Media agencies, in particular, have for too long, both celebrated and dare I say, encouraged female talent to behave in a ladette fashion. There’s still too much laddish banter on the floor and it takes bravery to stand up and call that out. I believe we need more men to do something about changing this.
We are disproportionally represented in our industry so there is an onus on us to drive movements like #HeForShe. Another phrase I am in favour of, oft used in Twitter debates around gender diversity, is ‘manbassadors’ which apparently originated in the corridors of Harvard. With all the creative and planning minds in our world, we should ourselves be campaigning for a “Manbassadors” movement in the ad industry.
But let’s be clear, the challenge here is not just about gender and in fact it’s not just about diversity; it’s about inclusion, equality and well being. The 2015 IPA Agency Census reveals that employees from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background account for just 13.1% of media agency staff. An MAA survey last year found that only a third of LGBT staff felt comfortable being themselves at work. These statistics are much more shocking than those around gender.
As the Direct Line boss at last week’s Oystercatchers event beautifully put it, today’s employees deserve to feel that they can “bring their whole selves to work”. For the agency community, which will increasingly be made up of millennials, this is hyper-essential.
The agency world is gifted the weighty responsibility of changing brand perceptions in a multi cultural, diverse, modern Britain; how can a pre-dominantly white, pre –dominantly male, heterosexual agency population best serve today’s eclectic Britain ? The brands we all work for are well ahead of the game so it’s about time that we caught up.
In case you needed any convincing, not only is a diversity strategy the ‘right’ thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do. McKinsey data proves that gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform those that lack diversity, and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform.
Our industry can do more. I know, and feel the pressure, as a leader, that I can and must do more.
Within Havas, we conducted a survey to understand which elements of diversity were most important to our talent; surprisingly, we found that above gender and race, the issue that transcended to be most important to the majority was that of mental health. Agencies are notoriously stressful and exhausting places to work so as an industry, we must prioritise creating environments where parents can attend their children’s assembly, remote working is accepted and counselling can be given to those that need it.
Meaningful change will come from the top of organisations. This doesn’t just mean funding or supporting the behavioural shift, it means being an active voice for change. It is, however, just as important, that change is driven from the ground up. Havas has just launched Fusion, a 100% employee-led initiative, aiming to ensure that we’re a diverse, inclusive and supportive place to work. It’s a step in the right direction but we are only 1% started on this journey.
This industry needs less talking and more doing in this area. More bravery. There are a lot of stats being thrown around which help focus the mind, but I feel that we should start by applying some common sense. Candidate shortlists for new roles should be diverse and gender balanced, as well as the interviewers themselves. Panel interviews naturally ensure more diverse opinions but everyone needs an equal voice. Internships for BAME graduates, more flexible working patterns, better training and awareness programmes can all help address the unconscious bias that exists in our industry.
I hope this piece outlines a two-fold need for men to stand up and be counted but also for any of us in leadership positions to consider the breadth of change needed to ensure we create a more diverse, inclusive industry that puts greater emphasis on agency staff’s well-being. How do we help our people achieve work-life integration where balance is perhaps a little too idyllic ?
I honestly thought twice about writing this piece, but that would have been me burying my head in the sand. I hope it inspires others (yes, in particular men) to speak out or at least consider how they could do more personally. #HeforShe
(Added post article – it’s great to see that there is new policy forcing the hand of leaders in companies to review whether they are diverse, starting with equality of pay. A small step and one of many needed, but this year will hopefully be a year of ACTION in diversity, not just talking.)