Leo’s Friday afternoon tweets highlight the industry’s problems with equality

Miranda WardLeo Burnett has wasted a chance to strike a real blow for equality by tweeting its response to the storm its all-white, all-male press release generated 48-hours late on a Friday afternoon, argues Miranda Ward

Writing about the ad industry, it’s always been pretty evident there’s a gender inequality problem in the more senior ranks – usually because it’s me, a woman in her 20s, sitting across a table from an older man chatting about the ad business.

I can probably count on one hand the times I’ve met with senior women in creative agencies during my two years covering the space for Mumbrella.

The picture which triggered Cindy Gallop's tweets

The picture which triggered Cindy Gallop’s tweets

While Leo Burnett has been copping all the flak over this issue which isn’t an agency problem but an industry one, the agency’s comments did little to change the conversation.

In fact it probably made it worse.

As one social media punter put it one of Leo Burnett’s tweets was the corporate equivalent to “I have black friends, I know a gay guy and I have a girlfriend so how can I be sexist”.

The tweet in question read: “45% of our Sydney Management Team is women, we have a female Head of Strategy, Head of Business Management and Head of HR/Talent.”

leo burnett gender tweet 3leo burnett gender tweet 4

Of course that is what the agency would say – and I’m not denying that the men hired are talented and worthy of their posts, but it’s glossing over an important issue.

In fact Leo Burnett has missed an opportunity. They’re one of the few agencies with a woman leading one of its offices.

Leo Burnett Melbourne's Geertz

Leo Burnett Melbourne’s Geertz

This was a chance for Leo Burnett to admit there was a problem in the industry and push for more industry debate and discussion on what could be done. And they could have had Melbourne CEO Melinda Geertz leading the charge.

Instead they focused on cold statistics to argue their agency has plenty of diversity. Of course the Communications Council’s own stats have show exactly this – half of the industry is female – they’re just not in creative departments or leading agencies.

Perhaps Leos is better than most – but that’s not the point.

To ignore the issue and infer gender inequality or sexism in the industry doesn’t exist is just wrong and it’s time the women of the ad world came out of the shadows and called bullshit.

And this is the chance Leo Burnett had – to turn what has ended up being a pretty negative situation for the agency into a chance to be an industry leader and push for change.

Last year I wrote a series on this topic of gender inequality within creative ad agencies. It generated very little attention, mostly because it’s not new news and it’s something that makes most agencies, and agencies leaders – and agency men – uncomfortable and defensive.

Indeed when posing the question of why women fall out of the creative industry before they make it to senior roles to one agency creative – yes a man – said it comes down to women unable to cope with the criticism a creative role attracts.

One of my first introductions to another creative industry exec really brought it home to me that the Mad Men world wasn’t quite as dead as the outside world probably thinks.

I was at the agency with the rest of my team – yep, you know the men of Mumbrella – and when introduced as the creative agency reporter this man looked at me and proceeded to shift and talk to the rest of my team, ignoring me completely for the rest of what was close to a two-hour meeting. Every time I asked a question, the agency boss turned and answered Alex, Tim or Nic. As Nic put it as we left the agency: “that was fucking rude”.

Perhaps it was more about ego than about gender, after all I was the junior on the team.

But all of this did play out when we had to wait for the female account manager to join us in the room, with jokes about her being the “token” tossed around by the ‘lads’ on her team.

I’m not arguing for quotas to be introduced – just a recognition that this is a genuine problem and this is what Leo Burnett had the opportunity to do.

For an ad agency that prides itself on its strategic prowess and communication, the strategic thinking that went into those tweets seemed to be negligible.leo burnett gender tweet 2

Leo Burnett should have done more. They could have made this a turning point for the way their own agency is perceived on this issue, they could have provided much needed industry leadership on an important topic. Instead they sent out four tweets.

If nothing else it shows the issues agencies have when it comes to recognising the importance of their own brand, and taking leadership. Saying nothing is not an answer, inevitably social media and commentary will fill the void for you.

It’s time for the industry to cut the crap. Stop being defensive and let’s actually talk about this problem. Again, I’m not arguing for quotas but just some sensible conversations around why it’s actually a problem.

The ad industry likes to think of themselves as problem solvers. It’s time to get to it.

  • Miranda Ward is public relations and publishing editor for Mumbrella

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