#BigQDiversity: Empowering women in a sustainable way
by MarkLives (@marklives) How are South African creative agencies faring in ensuring gender equity in the workplace? Are women enjoying the same opportunities and pay as their male colleagues — or are they still mired in gender bias, sexism and harassment? Without any real hard data available, Camilla Clerke of HelloFCB+ is the next key female executive to give us her assessment of the state of adland.
I can’t speak for every agency but I’d say most of them are doing all the right things — on the surface. But what interests me much more than correcting the female-to-male ratio, putting more women on judging panels and PRing a few key promotions is what agencies, and agency leaders, are doing on a deeper level to correct a wrong that isn’t just an industry condition but a global one. Not enough, I’d say.
It’s a culture thing
Now, I’m not suggesting that hiring more women isn’t the right thing to do (it absolutely is) but the culture of a company is of equal importance. Agencies need to provide a safe space for women to thrive and, after centuries of being seen as mothers, rather than moguls, it’s going to take time. Lots of it. As female leaders in the industry, we have to insist on the right workshopping, counselling and coaching — for both sexes — to empower women in a way that is sustainable. Change starts with the grand gestures but it continues with hard work and dedication to shifting the dial.
The cure for imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome is a condition where you doubt your accomplishments and have a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. I’ll say it: I suffer from it. Big time. It’s the feeling that you don’t really deserve to be there, and it’s just a matter of time before someone “outs you”.
Although this condition impacts everyone — male, female, non-binary — I do feel women find it harder to work through, and rightfully so, because for many years we weren’t considered “leadership material”. So, even though companies are putting females in positions of power, are they giving them the right tools to take on the role comfortably, with self-confidence and authority?
I do feel that this isn’t solely the role of the agency, however, but also the role of women. We need to be our own “fearless girls”. We need to take up space, demand attention, share our viewpoints and speak out, even if it’s terrifying. The more women who see other women doing it, the more we’ll feel like we belong in these positions. We’re not imposters!
Pull one another up the ladder
I read an article recently that began with the following, “Female career climbers have been urged to leave the ladder down instead of pulling it behind them after they reach the top.”
Adland is a highly competitive industry and, as females have fought tooth and nail for top positions, instinct kicks in: we want to protect our turf, and this may be from other women. As female leaders, we have a much-larger responsibility than individual success; we have to nurture and grow other female leaders.
A recent Australian survey stated that women prefer to have male bosses, as we can, to quote, “push aside possible competitors by undermining their self-confidence and professional standing”. But there’s no way we’ll get ahead in the industry if we don’t want to work for one another. So, female leaders need to work hard to mentor the younger generation, give them courage and find opportunities for them to achieve.
Close the gap
South African agencies have made an effort to close the gap — both in pay and in equality. But more needs to be done in that invisible layer to help prepare women and businesses for this necessary change. As advertisers, we all know the huge effort it takes to change consumer behaviour. Let’s make sure the results of this case study are as good ;)
But, for now, some tips for women out there:
- Find your wolfpack — women who inspire you, women you can lean on, women you can bounce things off of, and women who can have a sense of humour about it all. To mine (you all know who you are), I couldn’t survive this industry without you.
- Reach out — find support in the great organisations and conversations already happening out there. SheSays is a safe space where women can have honest, hearty debates about topics such as mental health and female toxicity in the workplace. The podcast, The Guilty Feminist, hosted by Deborah Frances-White, is a supportive forum that discusses big topics, while confessing our “buts” — the insecurities, hypocrisies and fears that undermine our lofty principles.
Be honest and open — don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability. With vulnerability comes huge respect and admiration.
- #BigQDiversity: “I choose to celebrate women” — Masego Motsogi
- #BigQDiversity: That inner circle? Incredibly hard to crack — Keri-Ann Stanton
- #BigQDiversity: Gender equity in SA advertising — Nino Naidoo
- #BigQDiversity: Another diversity article — Khanyi Mpumlwana
- The Big Q: Discrimination and sexism in adland and marketing — Heidi Brauer, Nino Naidoo, Neo Makhele, Viv Gordon (2016)
Launched in 2016, “The Big Q” is a regular column on MarkLives in which we ask key advertising and marketing industry execs for their thoughts on relevant issues facing the industry. If you’d like to be part of our pool of panellists, please contact editor Herman Manson via email (2mark at marklives dot com) or Twitter (@marklives). Suggestions for questions are also welcomed.