Diversity needs time – just not the time you expect

Karen Ferry - croppedThe call to advertising agency’s creative departments to become more diverse needs to start with recognition of where that diversity comes from, says guest columnist Karen Ferry.

In the past 12 months, there’s been a lot of talk about how advertising creative departments don’t have enough diversity, especially in regards to women.

There’s been talk about quotas. Talk of training to tackle unconscious bias. Telling women to ‘lean in’, CDs to ‘be uncomfortable’. We’ve seen clickbait lists of what’s holding women back and even more lists of what women can do to solve this.

But this soft touch, this solution through discussion, doesn’t necessarily result in change. You only need to look at the case against JWT North America and their ex-global CEO Gustavo Martinez, where Martinez allegedly sexually assaulted an employee immediately after gender training, to see that lip service doesn’t necessarily pay.

Because while all these methods are necessary, if we want tangible change we also need to implement tangible actions.

Take for example, Wieden + Kennedy London, who are trialling capped working hours. Agency staff are banned from their email accounts after 7pm, and from having meetings outside of 10am-4pm. And it’s not just the actions of one agency. The liberty-led France – as in the entire country – is trying to pass legislation that stops employees from checking emails outside office hours.

These are the kinds of initiatives that make a big difference for mothers who battle with childcare pick-ups and after work routines.

But Wieden + Kennedy’s trial signifies something bigger for all staff. It marks a massive attitudinal shift in acknowledging employees who have lives outside of advertising.

What they recognise and will hopefully prove in this trial, is that long hours aren’t required to create ideas or be productive.

No agency will die if we don’t work 24/7 – and if they do, they’re doing it wrong. Like one unnamed Australian agency that reportedly gave a staff member an award after he worked 2.5 days without sleep, but with gastro. In the same office as everyone else.

This expectation of endless sacrifice burns through staff, through creativity, and through the office toilet paper supply.

I’m not saying that Wieden + Kennedy’s trial will work for every agency, or in Australia. However, with international change can come influence. And if W+K can successfully rein back the hours and draw a line between work and play, it’s the first solid step towards creating workplace flexibility – a crucial barrier to retaining more women in the industry.

Because if we want to encourage diversity, we need to look at where it comes from. And the reality is that in this day and age, the requirements of being an advertising creative only favours those who are fortunate enough to be able to sacrifice all to their job.

Those who don’t need to worry about childcare duties. Who live within a 15km radius of agency land. And who have parents that can support them through Award School and those low-paid junior years.

Once we stop expecting creatives to dedicate all their hours to be seen sitting at their desks – even if they’re just looking at YouTube or redesigning their Squarespace – we can start opening the recruiting doors to those who can’t afford this privilege. The creatives from different suburbs.

The women, the ones with families, with different ethnic backgrounds. From different stages in life, with different points of view.

Because diversity isn’t just about seeing different faces at the table. It’s what each person brings to the table.

And in order to have this diversity in experience and ideas, we need to support staff in maintaining their own diversity of lifestyle, instead of expecting them to give it up and conform to the advertising dream.

While initiatives like training and education are needed, until we change the industry’s attitudes towards creative requirements, diversity will always be restricted.

However, with a little bit more W+K style breathing room, it won’t be so hard to come by, or so quota reliant.

Instead it will give us all the chance to rediscover what life is like away from a Mac, and reconnect with more interesting, diverse and truthful human insights.

We can move the talk on from life in advertising, to life in the real world. And that can only be a good thing.

Karen Ferry is an awarded freelance senior creative. Who also happens to be a woman and Chinese Australian.


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