Opinion

The baby question isn’t going to go away. It’s time to deal with it

Damian PincusThe time has come to deal with an issue that’s not going to go away, argues Damian Pincus, who sits on The Communications Council’s Gender Diversity Group.

There is a mantra we in advertising like to trot out with a fair degree of regularity. Talent, the men and women who fill our agencies each day, are the backbone of our businesses. Without their experience, and toil we are nothing.

It’s a great sound bite, but the reality is half of those that we value the most are likely to encounter some covert form of discrimination during their working lives, forcing them to abandon any hope of a long-term career in advertising.Discrimination is a provocative word to use, but it’s the right word. Only 24% of management roles in advertising agencies such as a general manager of an agency office; head of account management; group account director or creative director are held by women. That’s shameful especially given the fact that women are recognised to bring significant financial and social benefits to their employers.

Gender diversity in advertising, particularly in senior management positions has been put into the ‘too hard’ basket because as an industry we simply don’t know how to cope with balancing the needs of our clients with those of our supposedly valued female employees. Maintaining the status quo is just much easier.

At least we’re finally trying to understand why such an important section of our workforce is effectively being driven out of its middle management ranks and lost forever. The Communications Council has created the Gender Diversity Group, of which I’m a member, and we now have some preliminary results from the first phase of research.

One of the key findings is that agencies believe clients need access to creatives and account management around the clock and as a result part-time or flexible working is often not an option for those employed in these areas.

Ensuring the needs of clients is obviously important; we wouldn’t be in business without them after all. But it’s too convenient for us to make them the scapegoat, and have we even asked the clients, the majority of whom are perversely women anyway, if this is indeed the case? That might be a good place to start.

I’m not saying clients don’t have their part to play, but agencies must also shoulder some of the responsibility as well. We’ve made it difficult for women who want to climb the corporate ladder to be able to combine a family at the same time.

The research has also found that women set their career sights lower than men and often can’t envisage themselves in top jobs, especially if they want to have babies. The lack of progressive and flexible working practices almost universally applied across the industry has created a disincentive for women to re-enter the workforce.

That can only start to be reversed once agencies get their houses in order and develop structured career paths for its female staff and begin treating them as long-term and not short–term employees. Creating real and sustained gender equality is not going to be easy but the simple truth is the baby question is never going to go away. Agencies have to accept it and move more quickly to fix it. It’s not just the right thing to do morally, it also makes sound business sense.

Our research into this important area is still continuing and if you’re a woman that is working or has worked in the advertising and marketing communications sector you can help us. Please fill out this survey and help us improve the industry.

  • Damian Pincus is creative partner at The Works
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