Diversity and creativity – the time for a collective solution is now or it’s just another Groundhog Day

simon canning-picIt’s time for the debate over the hiring of five white guys on a couch at Leo Burnett in Sydney to move on – but not to go away argues Simon Canning.

For those of you new to adland, welcome to Groundhog Day.

Veterans, women especially, will recognise the recurring debate over the lack of women in leadership roles in general in the ad industry, and in particular in the creative bunkers of agencies. Time and again, it flares, smoulders and dies.

But unless the issue remains on the agenda and agencies, clients, industry associations, journalists and, perhaps most importantly of all, individuals, remain engaged, what purpose will the past week have served?

Too often it begins as a journey of change guided by reason and passion, yet like a man lost in the woods we will inevitably circle back to this spot again.

To misappropriate Shakespeare, let this moment not be a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury yet signifying nothing.

At the centre of the discussion right now sits an agency, battered and bewildered. Yet it could have been any one of dozens of pride-filled hiring announcements from agency’s that unwittingly triggered a trade and mainstream media tsunami.

This energy and desire for a greater good to emerge must be harnessed by everyone at every level of the industry.

Indeed, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

But where to begin?

Well, we already have. As Alex Hayes pointed out in his piece on the ad industry’s secret shame, 42 per cent of Award school students this year were female, it’s a statistic replicated in years past.

There is no better starting point.

Every creative department should be engaged with Award School and expose itself to the creativity of this 42 per cent that, without industrial behavioural change, will dwindle to insignificance on the creative stage as time and inertia take their toll.

At an association level the pressure needs to be maintained – not with just the odd panel and event, but with constant reference to the evolution of creative departments.

From the early 1990s Bev Dyke, then Lesley Brydon and now Tony Hale at the AFA/Communications Council had worked tirelessly to drive the equality and diversity agenda, but the industry buy-in has verged on tokenism. It cannot be so.

Clients need to be brought on board as a positive influence. The Male Champions of Change should be sought as a partner to help maintain the message and share learnings because, lets be honest, the ad industry is far from being an island on this issue.

The headhunters – the source of so many creative appointments – must be part of the discussion and become active advocates in their own right for the shift in the face of Australia’s creative departments.

They are, to a degree, part of the problem. By not putting women at the forefront of their recommendations they are making it harder for the agencies they serve to evolve.

And the old dogs of advertising must be sent back to puppy school. The world has changed. The masters of the creative space must evolve or move on. Work practices have changed and being seen to sit at a desk from dawn to beyond dusk does not equate to creative brilliance.

Fact: women have babies, take time away from the industry and then seek to return. Amazingly, just like the rest of us, they also get older. These are not impediments to creativity, they are fuel!

If you don’t believe me read this excellent and timely op-ed from a Grey London senior copywriter Clemmie Telford, in which she says:

So, though I am occasionally (eternally) sleep-deprived, I am certain I am still valuable asset to my agency. Why? I care. I can’t help but care. Creativity is my crack.

Leo Burnett’s managing director Pete Bosilkovksi has been shocked and humbled by the events of the past few days. He admits mistakes have been made.

But so too, he wants to be part of the solution and that is where the conversation must now lie.

Not one man, not one agency, not one association, can solve this vexing issue. The complexities and legacy practices are huge hurdles to a future of equality and diversity. It is an issue that demands a collective to work together for the greater good. That collective is all of us.

Let the fire of this debate burn brightly and forever like the Olympic flame, and not be extinguished by indifference.

The choice is ours.

So, who’s going to have the guts to make this happen?

  • Simon Canning is a journalist at Mumbrella

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