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Australia’s agency bosses are male, white and mainly employ under-40s, survey confirms

A survey of some of Australia’s biggest creative agencies has revealed that only one-in-six of their leadership are women, only 20% of workers are older than 40 and that between them they employ just a single member of staff of Aboriginal background.

The homogenous background of the organisations charged with tapping into the zeitgeist of everyday Australians is among the first data to be released by The Agency Circle, which features 15 creative agencies who came together earlier this year with the aim of promoting diversity.

The top tier of creative agency management – recorded in the survey as chair, CEO or MD – is 84% male and 16% female.

The next tier down – labelled as “senior executive” is 60% male and 40% female.

“Creative & design” is 71% male and 29% female.

According to the survey, the departments where there is a significant proportion more women than men are account management, HR, finance and admin.

Strategy roles are almost even, with a 48% male and 52% female representation.

The survey also suggests a lack of diversity in ethnic backgrounds with agency staff 85% caucasian and 15% non-caucasian.

Overall, 53% of people working within the agencies are women.

The survey identified just one person within the 15 agencies who said they were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background.

The most common age within agencies is 25-30, with 36% of staff falling into this group. A total of 80% of agency staff are aged below 40.

Agency Circle chair and director of strategy at VCCP, Michele O’Neill, said: “Agencies who took part in the inaugural survey are digging deep into their findings, listening to their staff and planning the changes they want to make in the coming months.”

And Emily Perrett, managing director of Clemenger BBDO Sydney was quoted as saying: “There’s not much to be proud of in the numbers – and we’ve no interest in being the best of a bad bunch. We’ll use this snapshot to track our individual progress, and make sure that the plans we’ve already got in place are making an actual difference – with regards to gender diversity and beyond”.

Among the 15 agencies participating in The Agency Circle are Leo Burnett, which was called out last year by diversity campaigner Cindy Gallop after it announced new creative hires with a photo featuring seven young white men.

Leo Burnett's PR crisis was triggered inadvertently by a press release about five new white. male creative hires

Leo Burnett’s press release triggered criticism but is by no means the only creative agency dominated by young white men

Also among the membership is M&C Saatchi which apologised after celebrating its anniversary earlier this year by having a woman jump out of a birthday cake to perform a burlesque routine.

There were 1211 respondents to the survey among the agencies. The other 13 agencies involved are VCCP, Clemenger BBDO, M&C Saatchi, Havas, TBWA, The Monkeys, JWT, The Hallway, CHE Proximity, Marketforce, DDB, 303 Mullen Lowe, BWM Dentsu and McCann.

Other stats included in the data included the finding that 45% of women surveyed felt vulnerable in the industry because of their gender, compared to just 3% of men.

And 42% of women said they had been sexually harassed, including through comments “disguised as jokes”.

30% of women said they believed that mothers are overlooked for promotions because of perceptions around family commitments. And more than half of those aged over 50 are worried their role is vulnerable because of their age.

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