Mumbrella360: Only 1% of creative agencies are founded by women, why don’t more people care?

At Mumbrella360, four female agency founders addressed some of adland’s biggest challenges. But, it seems they were preaching to the choir - a half-full room of mostly women. So, why doesn’t the industry seem to care more to hear what female leaders have to say? Lauren McNamara, journalist at Mumbrella, asks.

Speaking on a panel moderated by Supermassive’s co-founder Simone Gupta, Special Group’s partner and CEO Lindsey Evans, Think HQ’s founder and MD Jen Sharpe, and Reunion’s managing partner of people and operations Dominique Hind, unpacked the challenges they faced starting their respective businesses, and where the industry still needs to improve. 

And while one may think the session would be a must-see for the industry – especially since the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s (WGEA) gender pay gap data revealed that the media industry has a larger gap (as high as 26%) than the Australian average (21.7%) and we should be talking more about female leadership – the reality was very different. 

The room was only half full, and the crowd was a majority of women. My colleague Matthew, who represented Mumbrella’s editorial team in the session, was one of two men. The other was Justin Hind, Dominique Hind’s husband. Just two men. Let that sink in. 

While we at Mumbrella acknowledge that other factors played into the crowd size – or lack thereof – especially because of the choice overload at Mumbrella360 (six streams to choose from, also featuring star power speakers including a CMO panel at the same time), there is still a wider issue brought to light. 

(L-R): Lindsey Evans, Dom Hind, Jen Sharpe and Simone Gupta

The media and marketing industry loves to talk at length about the way it is championing its female employees. It loves to drag on about Mother’s Day initiatives, International Women’s Day initiatives, the work it is doing to support women going through menopause or perimenopause. And while the efforts are acknowledged, and some are welcomed, it’s often not enough.

More needs to be done. We need less performative bullshit. The work of the Fck The Cupcakes initiative, Women in Media, or the Mums in Ads initiative, for example, are so important to remind the industry that enough is enough. 

Mums in Ads found that women make up the majority of this industry, that figure is heavily skewed by the women entering it – not leading it. Women want to be seen in the same vein as their male colleagues. They want to be awarded the same opportunities, career progression and support.

Last year, 85% of Women in Media’s annual survey respondents called for gender pay audits, up 1% from the year before. 54% of women were unsure or dissatisfied with their progress of their careers, while 63% called for shadowing programs to provide access to leaders and hands-on learning. 

We are speaking up. We are pushing for equality. But is the industry listening? Judging on the turn out to this session, it doesn’t seem like it.

So when we’re at an industry event like Mumbrella360, and a session featuring four incredible female creative leaders gets a half-full room of attendees, the performative nature of the industry comes to light. 

The session was important for all of the industry – not just aspiring female founders. Advertising has for decades been coming via the male lens – and the only way that can change is if more women are in the founding lineup. 

Sharpe reminded attendees that there is still room to grow, especially in terms of “opening the club” to more types of people. Pointing out that the panellists were all white women, she said that there are other groups out there that need support too – women of colour, people of different ages, sexualities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and more. 

Flexibility, talent regardless of gender, equal career progression – these are things that were missing for the panellists, which pushed them to start their businesses.

Hind said flexibility was a big driving factor in starting up WiTH Collective in 2010, and then Reunion in 2-23. She said being a working mum in adland is a huge challenge, and when it comes to servicing a client, policies often go out the window and flexibility is no more. Starting WiTH Collective, and now Reunion, meant she was able to ensure the work is flexible, as it’s just one part of her life, and shouldn’t overrule everything else. 

Part of the reason Evans started Special Group was because of her age. Around 60% of the industry is under 34. So what happens when you’re above that age? Reflecting on her experience, she said she thought she either had to go back to client-side where she could have a long career and provide for her family, or start her own business. She thought she had no choice.

So much more can be done to improve DE&I across the industry. And we talk about it, but are we acting on it? The beauty of an event like Mumbrella360 is it shows us where the industry walks the walk, but doesn’t talk the talk. So, when will it listen?

To watch this session recording and more from Mumbrella360, head to Mumbrella Pro.


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