More women senior creatives is a win-win
The advertising industry, internationally and in Ireland, is awash with female talent. But creative departments are as bad as boardrooms when it comes to gender balance. According to IAPI's latest census of Irish ad agencies, women are most prominent in new business, marketing and PR (70pc) and account management (66pc). They are least prominent in creative departments (35pc) and at chair and CEO roles (20pc).
In particular there's a lack of women in senior creative positions. In the UK only 12pc of creative directors are women. In Ireland there are only a handful of female creative directors.
Why does this matter? It's damaging, not just for the advertising industry, but for society overall. Advertising is a powerful force that shapes our perceptions of society - as it is and as we'd like it to be - and the place of men and women in it. If the industry that creates those images has an inherent bias, gender stereotypes will persist - hell, they'll loom over us on billboards, and follow us on the multitude of screens we're exposed to on a daily basis.
And there is undoubtedly a bias. But don't take my word for it. Just ask Geena Davis - yes, that Geena Davis. Last year research from the actress's Institute on Gender in Media and J Walter Thompson analysed over 2,000 films from the Cannes Lions archive. They found that the portrayal of women in ads hasn't changed in the last decade.
There are twice as many male characters in ads as female characters; women over 30 don't appear in advertising as frequently as men; men are more likely to be funny; women are six times more likely to be shown in sexually revealing clothing than men; while women are 48pc more likely to be shown in the kitchen. It's a subtle, but insidious imbalance in how the sexes are portrayed.
Publicis's Carol Lambert is one of the few female creative directors in Ireland. "It was a boy's club historically for me when I started, because there were so few women around," she said. "But it's changed now because there are a lot more women knocking on the door, just maybe not as many walking through it as there should be."
Would a better gender balance in creative departments make a difference? Lambert believes so.
"You'd have a greater depth to campaigns. You'd have a broader viewpoint into the psychological insight into consumer behaviour that could benefit brands.
"It's up to owners and MDs of all companies to ask themselves what's more important for their company and what will help them in the short or long term: are you more likely to be successful in a business if you've got varying opinions, a wider variety of talents, a wider skillset in psychology and ideas? Is that better for your business than having a bunch of strong leadership types who will go out and push sales?"
The trade bodies are helping agencies address these questions. For International Women's day IAPI is teaming up with Creative Equals, an organisation from the UK that champions gender balance in creative departments. ICAD's Upstarts Programme, which offers workshops and mentoring for young creative talent, saw 56pc female participation. "We're constantly working on broader representation at board level, on juries and at events, while facilitating conversation and asking some of the difficult questions regarding positive discrimination, mentorship and parental leave," said Elaine McDevitt, ICAD's managing director. "There is a noticeable sea-change and a willingness to engage with the issues. That combined with creative thinking can only lead to positive change."
And in case any sceptics are thinking that all this talk of gender balance is a load of PC prattle, there's another reason to recruit and retain more female creatives. Money.
The Harvard Kennedy School has found that teams with an equal gender mix perform better in terms of sales and profits than those that are male-dominated.
And research from stock market analysis firm MSCI has shown that companies with strong female leadership generated a higher return on equity than those without.
Better business outcomes, more-balanced teams and improved portrayals of women in advertising; this sounds like a no-brainer for agencies in 2018.
Lest we forget, there's also an onus on clients to interrogate the creative teams that agencies put on their campaigns. If the agency has a lack of female talent, clients that want to combat negative stereotyping of women should take their business elsewhere.
Sunday Indo Business