Friday, 7 March 2014

Women in Advertising.

I am a woman.

For anyone who has met me, I hope this doesn't come as a shock. But I find myself thinking more and more what it actually means.

Not biologically (got that one down thanks), but more in terms of how we as women are defined by those around us, particularly at work.

Before I found permanent, gainful employment in advertising, I pretty much worked every low wage, low expectation job you can imagine. These jobs were always stepping stones, money for clothes, money for travelling, money for uni. At the time I never really stopped and thought about the way I was treated, woman or not.

But looking back, it was pretty grim. Chefs pushing up against you in the fridges, leering business men, a boss who put the pretty girls out front, and the kind of hilarious 'banter' Bernard Manning would be ashamed of.

Hardly unique. And the fact that I shrugged it off, knowing I was just passing through on my way to bigger and better things, is now shameful when I consider how many women have no choice but to work in those jobs, with those men. 

Compared to that, women in advertising appear to be having a great time. And most of the time, I genuinely think we are.

Often presented as a fairly forward thinking, liberal outlet of the media industry I think it is widely presumed we've totally nailed ('scuse the pun) this whole sexism malarkey. But a quick glance around any Creative Department or Boardroom should really make us think again.

My colleagues at Inferno posted this article today to celebrate International Women's Day. Turns out we don't have that much to celebrate.

"75% of Copywriters and Art Directors in IPA member agencies are male. 86% of the Digital Creatives are male. 97% of all Creative Directors are male. 50% of consumers are women. Something’s not quite right. Compared to about 36% of women in all creative media jobs, advertising agencies’ creative departments (and senior roles) are still quite heavily a man’s world."
All of which poses the big question. Why? 

Personally, I don't believe there is any great conspiracy. And I don't believe that advertising is inherently misogynistic. But I am occasionally surprised by the views of the men I work with.

Take a conversation we had a the pub the other day. Talk turned to the art of successfully selling in big ideas to a risk averse client. About halfway through the discussion, a male colleague suddenly said,

"Don't you think clients in senior, executive roles are more likely to respect the opinion of their male counterparts?"

Excuse me? Do I think what?

That our highly capable, hugely experienced senior female employees would somehow not be taken seriously because they have boobs?

Or that we have a group of clients who are all living in 1950, patiently waiting for Don Draper to come and take them through the work like a real man. With whiskey.

Or simply that said male colleague was projecting his own views onto the situation and consequently respects me a little less because I am a girl?

Surely not?

I refuse to believe any of the above. Mainly because if he is right, and any of the above do apply, my job just got a little more depressing.

In truth, I think the gender bias in agencies is more to do with the impracticalities of our jobs than the attitudes of those around us. I honestly do not believe that I am less valued than my male colleagues.  If anything I think the increase of women in creative jobs has improved the work that comes out of them. It means we are better able to  reflect the real world, because our work place does too. A fact backed up by multiple studies, including this one, suggest that more women in senior roles is actually better for your bottom line.

But there are things we could try:

1. We need better ways for ladies to have babies

We want to have them, and we want to work. Flexible working hours, home offices and less competitive hour bating ("I've done 60 hours and it's ONLY tuesday...") would really help us out.

2. Mix it up

As agencies, we have a chance to change the mould. Doing a new campaign for a cleaning/home/food product? Try putting a man in it, rather than the ubiquitous chino wearing mum. We tell ourselves we have the power to persuade people, so why not put it to better use? Women, let's bloody represent. 

3. Promote more women

I am lucky to work in a place with lots of great senior female role models. And it really makes a difference. Having inspirational, creative women around the place is a good thing for everyone.

4. Be bossy/nagging/shrewish

To be successful in advertising, particularly in creative, you need to be bullish. You need to be able to push an idea forward and once it is bought, you need to be able to look after it. When men do this it's called being assertive, confident and managerial. When girls do it we are bossy, loud ball breakers. Until we can change the vernacular, I suggest we just get on with it. Someone calls you opinionated? Give yourself a pat on the pack. You've successfully made sure they heard. If anyone has a problem with it, it's their own lack of confidence talking.

"Women who do do well are often those with younger brothers. They're used to annoying young men and simply rise above them. For me, however, the answer is not about toughness as much as it is about technique." 
5. When you get it, don't complain

This one is for us girls. At some point we have to take responsibility for our own choices too. There is no such thing as having it all, so if you do find some sort of a balance, appreciate it. You can't make every lunch, every trip, or every meeting if you also need to be at home. No one ever promised it would all be fun. Don't moan, get on with it, and prove why you deserve a place amongst the big boys. 

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