During the BBC’s Spikes Asia panel on diversity hosted by BBC World News Presenter, Lucy Hockings, each panelist had all too many stories to draw on when it came to the question of what holds women back in the workplace. And while plenty of other diversity seminars have discussed institutional sexism and unconscious gender bias, one of the more interesting notions to come out of today’s session was that a major hurdle many women have to overcome is their own sense of guilt.
It’s no secret that advertising can be a demanding industry, and the people working within it have created and perpetuated an all-consuming culture that is seen as in direct conflict with marriage and motherhood. It should come as little surprise, then, that many women feel pressured into choosing one or the other.
“You hear so many little stories like these,” says Josy Paul, chairman and CCO of BBDO India. “A CD leaves because her colleagues have told her that if she wants a relationship, she needs to break up because it’s not going to work. Perception, whether true or not, is affecting the issue.”
This perception, it seems, is limited to extremes; a woman is either superhuman and capable of effortlessly juggling all of her different responsibilities, or she is a failure. “It’s ok to not ‘have it all’,” says Merlee Jayme, CCO and chairman of DM9 Jayme Syfu. “It’s ok to not be perfect.” Suzanne Powers, Global CSO at McCann, is in agreement: “It’s alright to be human at work,” she says. “Don’t overcompensate… Set boundaries and decide where you are prepared to compromise, and where you are not.”
“Let go of the guilt,” says Jayme. “You deserve what you’ve worked for.” The entire panel agrees that the feelings behind the now infamous term ‘imposter syndrome’ are unproductive and need to be jettisoned. “Be proud of what you do,” says Powers. “Don’t play it down.”
And when it comes to agencies, there is always more to be done. “Don’t just talk about these ideas, put it in a brand campaign,” suggests Paul, while Powers believes that an equal workplace is very much a work in progress. “We are not doing enough policy-wise,” she says, “ but attitudinally we’ve made a start. It’s important to support men having babies as much as the women.”