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Vox Pop: The gender fall out in today’s ad land

After Kevin Robert’s resignation from Saatchi & Saatchi, it is clear that the gender debate within ad land is far from ‘over’. The Drum Network asks its members, how can we make steps to overcome the inequality?

Melissa Smith, founder, The Industry Club


Gender diversity is one of the most discussed topics in our industry today and yet despite considerable debate and numerous organisations campaigning for change - progress is slow especially in London’s creative departments. In fact, in our recently released documentary on the subject, Ali Hanan, founder of UK initiative Creative Equals, revealed that only 14 per cent of Creative Directors in London are women. That means 86 per cent of advertisements coming out of the London market come from a particular male bias— despite the fact that 85 per cent of consumer purchasing decisions are made by women. The diversity issue is far from over.  Rather than wait for change to happen, The Industry Club has launched our Work Sisters programme to address this.

Erika Clegg, co-founder, Spring

Erika Clegg

I’d like to focus on what women can do as individuals. I have just had a meeting with a woman who is stepping up her role and fears that she does not have enough authority to be taken seriously. We discussed ways to improve that.

There is a strong argument for ‘assuming the position’. It’s important that the title you have demonstrates your seniority, for the benefit of those you come into contact with, not just you. And yes, clothes and other aspects of presentation count - if you’re in a senior position, you need to look it until you’re so incredibly senior that it just doesn’t matter any more. This applies irrespective of your sex. 

Be involved with things that are not traditionally female - by all means take the brief for equality and CSR, but sit on the economic development and finance committee too. Always have the facts to hand to support your view, there’s little room for women to argue their point using instinct or emotion as their central line of argument. Be prepared to take the rostrum, to be the media contact, to give interviews - get media training if you’re uncomfortable about it.

Remember the quote about Ginger Rogers: “she did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels.” You have to be the best, on top of things, and really pushing yourself to deliver. 

But for goodness sake, if you have a family, put their photo on your desk - it shouldn’t just be for the men to do so. And similarly, ask for help. You don’t have to be an island. If you don’t ask, it won’t be offered; if you do ask, you’re paving the way for the next generation to get help as the norm.

Rebekah Mackay Miller, managing director, trnd UK


It’s 2016. The fact we’re still talking about pay equality and the lack of women on boards astounds me. Especially, when as an industry we’re consulting clients on how to market to a generation of people who are starting to move away from the idea of gender binaries altogether. Realistically, how can we even begin to fathom the concept of ‘beyond binaries’ when our industry has not yet managed to master gender equality? If agencies are to stay relevant, we need to keep up. Agencies should look like the people they market to, yet unconscious (or conscious?) bias still exists at the top of our industry. It’s blind to suggest otherwise. The excuse “I’d give the job to a woman but none applied” doesn’t cut it, and we must not accept it.

Lucy Gillons, co-founder and director, Jackanory

Lucy Gillons

Having founded our own agency in 2014, my business partner Jo Curtis and I have been continually congratulated on our success. Men and women comment that we should feel proud about “doing it for the girls”, for being two women who’ve set up their own agency and made it work. The fact that this comment is made at all shows that gender inequality in senior agency roles is still very much in existence.

In business, however, there’s always a reality that women may need to take time out. BUT, that doesn’t equate to lack of ambition or desire to succeed. This is where the divide really starts as many still believe that women can’t have it all! It’s important to create a flexible culture from the bottom up, so that agency staff understand that simply getting the job done well will ensure future success, whatever your gender. That’s the culture we’re striving to create at Jackanory.

Lisa Rogers, marketing manager, NMPi

Lisa Rogers

It becomes glaringly obvious any time you attend an industry event how few women are in senior positions within digital. You are often lucky if 1 out of 4 speakers is a woman.

Of course this isn’t an easy fix. Companies should not be pressured into promoting women because they need to be seen as gender equal. Offices need to create an environment where all staff can progress according to merits and their achievements.

However, for me it really comes down to education. Groups like GeekGirl UK are doing a great job at encouraging and supporting women in the industry, but we should also be reaching out to girls when they are still in school, teaching leadership and communication skills that will help them succeed.

S3 Advertising


Maxwell Painter, CEO, Unrival

Maxwell Painter

The gender debate will not and should not be over until there is equality at all levels, in all industries, in all companies. To do this we need to make the great female role models out there more visible to inspire the next generation of future business leaders.

I believe in the business benefits of diversity and that it not only makes commercial sense to mirror your customer base in your workforce but that it makes for a richer discussion when making business decisions in hearing different opinions.

I’m a proud champion of diversity and at Unrival we actually have many more women than men with some fabulous female role models acting as mentors for the younger women in the organisation. 

As business leaders and owners in this sector, I believe we have a responsibility to call out those who have unbalanced view, but also build our companies with amazingly talented people, no matter what their gender.

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