Campaign: Has the industry turned a corner towards gender balance?

This article was first published on Campaign Live on Monday 9th July 2018:

Years of campaigning for better gender balance in advertising and marketing is finally bearing fruit, observers have suggested, following a succession of high-profile appointments of women.

In the past fortnight alone, Christine Removille was appointed global president of Carat, Anna Watkins was hired as managing director post for Oath UK and Danielle Bassil stepped up at Digitas as its new UK chief executive.

“I believe there is a fundamental shift in how recruitment in the industry is managed,” Kathleen Saxton founder of executive search firm The Lighthouse Company, said. “This is due to many years of lobbying that has, rightfully, shamed the industry into doing better.”

Companies in the industry are now more conscious about sexist recruitment practices and are actively asking for long- and shortlists that are gender balanced, Saxton added. “This is also true on the part of the recruiters.”

There is, however, some concern that some of this change is tokenism that will snap back once attention has moved on. But, for better or worse, even tokenism is a “way of change which is here to stay,” Liz Hunter, founder of headhunting company LIZH, said.

“Women as I see it are trying to create an industry culture and an effective way of doing this is to include a variety of candidates within the pipeline,” she said. She cautions though that the word tokenism is counter-productive to the movement, regardless of company motivations.

In the case Bassil’s appointment to chief executive of Digitas, the process was based on meritocracy, Sue Frogley, chief executive Publicis Media UK said. “Dani fully-deserved her promotion based on her talents alone. But, of course, I am delighted to have another woman joining my leadership team. More broadly speaking across the industry the glass ceiling is shattering all around us, which is just great.”

There is also an increased willingness on the part of companies to relax rigid working practices born of an era where the working spouse was supported by a stay-at-home spouse, a move that benefits both women and men.

Saxton revealed: “There was a big agency network last year that asked us to recruit two new managing directors for them with a long-list that included as many qualified women as possible. We found some fantastic candidates, one, however, wanted a four-day work week and another needed flexible hours because they had moved out of London.

“Initially, the group said no. But they were such strong candidates, and I told them that if they were serious about improving diversity, they had to consider changing a policy that demanded full hours sat in the office. To their credit, they capitulated and both women have proven very successful hires.”

Beyond a real attitude shift within the industry, other factors can be credited to the happy convergence of growing awareness, the availability of senior female talent, and an industry in flux paving the way for fresh talent, Saxton said

However, she added there is much to be done in the way of improving the industry’s black and ethnic minority representation, particularly at a senior leadership level.

“Part of the problem is the pipeline, which the industry needs to work on. It’s roughly at the level it was for women a decade ago,” Saxton added.