Tackling the gender imbalance


Dentsu Aegis Network North recently sponsored the inaugural Women’s Networking event at Leeds Business Week where they discussed the importance of tackling gender imbalance.

Meriel de Lacey Meriel de Lacey Leadership & Development Director DAN North Gender Equality

Most people will be aware of the gender balance challenge faced by corporate businesses, and any of you who’ve watched the TV series “Mad Men” will have an idea of the advertising industry’s particular legacy when it comes to gender equality.

It might therefore surprise you to know that when the IPA started looking at this data 10 years ago, the advertising industry had achieved a fairly even gender split.

But the latest figures show the same old story: The ‘trickle up’ effect is just not happening organically. Women still account for a relatively low proportion of the most senior staff at 22%, shrinking down to 9% when it comes to agency management.

Historically, one of the biggest drivers for the lack of women in top roles is the long-hours culture of these organisations, which creates a high drop-out rate of women when childcare responsibilities come into play. Several years ago, however, this demand for flexibility that used to be women’s issue became a millennial issue.

Flexibility is a common demand from the new generation who are starting work with Silicon Valley-style expectations. Advertising was one of the early industries to be subjected to this comparison.

We had to adapt if we wanted the talent, and we are starting to retain our female talent better as a result.

But there are more complex and deeper rooted components to this challenge. On the back of this we are focussing our efforts in three areas to disrupt the old social imbalance for the next generation of leadership.

Gender bias

The first stage is trying to diminish out-dated biases relating to male and female roles, particularly, but not exclusively, that the juggling act of career and children is a women’s issue.

We are encouraging the men in our business to take a bigger role in their family life by taking up paid Shared Parental Leave. We have also introduced a flex scheme meaning that anyone in our business can shift their working day forwards or back to better accommodate other commitments.

This cements a culture shift to measuring performance on outcomes and behaviours rather than by an assumption that being in the office late at night is somehow a measure of commitment.

We have set up a network, called ONE, who are a group of individuals from around the business committed to tacking gender biases. They are doing this through awareness events and by developing resources such as mentoring and mental health support.

Women in leadership

Dentsu Aegis Network North is ahead of the curve with female representation on our regional leadership team at 26%. But our target is 50%.

Industry can support the development of female leaders by ring-fencing a portion of the learning budget specifically for women with the potential to lead and design programmes to equip them with the skills to overcome obstacles in a business landscape established by men and which is still male-dominated.

Positive action can be a contentious issue and we welcome debate. There is no doubt there are men who encounter similar obstacles to the women we are targeting, but the numbers are telling us that women experience this disproportionately. We all aspire to the day when having a female networking event will be irrelevant, but we have a way to go yet.

It is in our business culture that once we set a target we don’t compromise in our pursuit of it. We have decided on positive action - investing in extra training and mentoring through our Women in Leadership programme.

Women in under-represented roles

The advertising industry needs to attract women into careers where they are under-represented from the outset.

The most significant areas are analytics and tech. There is high demand for services like search engine analytics, web optimisation, programmatically traded media, increasingly big data insight and systems development.

Having a market leading team in this area means we are rapidly out-growing the small, predominantly male, talent pools and it threatens to hold back our growth.

Women are missing out on huge career and earnings opportunities in growth sectors like these. Ironically these sectors are more suited to flexible working than female-dominated areas like account management.

The layers of different reasons why women are not choosing these careers mean we all need to get in there early, before too many choices or too many assumptions are made. Dentsu Aegis Network has developed a number of school partnership programmes that give us the opportunity to get female role models in front of the talent of the future and help them to visualise themselves building these careers.

These are our starting points for action. In the same way we do when our clients set us a challenge; we will analyse the data to understand our performance, interrogate opportunities to enhance it, and keep innovating the solutions.

Meriel de Lacey Meriel de Lacey Leadership & Development Director DAN North Gender Equality
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