Spikes Asia 2016
Gender Diversity: Are We Nearly There Yet?

Bring up the subject of diversity at any conference, and you’ll no doubt see some people roll their eyes. “Oh, not this subject again…it’s everywhere…” But the fact is, in many markets women are only managing to scratch the surface of being able to achieve gender equality, and in others, we seem to  take two steps forward only for someone to say or do something that makes us all feel like we’re back at the beginning. That’s why the UN has made Gender Equality a Global Goal.

Across the industry, creatives and clients alike are pouring an extraordinary (and important) amount of effort and focus into unstereotyping women, smashing gender taboos and producing female empowerment and equality brand communications. From Bodyform’s brave ‘No blood should hold us back’  to H&M’s most recent re-make of Tom Jones’ somewhat sexist song She’s A Lady, to Unilever’s commitment to Un-stereotyping women in their advertising; we’ve seen a historic focus on an issue that should, by now, be over. But while we spend important time thinking about it in external comms (our life blood), are we actually spending enough time thinking about it internally; are we, as creatives and marketers, making the message of female empowerment and equality pervasive in our own cultures? The way we work? The way we promote?  Our everyday choices? Are we actually practicing what we are preaching at all?diversity_debate

Last week, the Spikes Inspiration stage offered up two panels which explored this issue, and showed just to what extent the answer is a resolute and disappointing “No”; both in the advertising industry in Asia, and in the wider circle of female entrepreneurs across the continent. The ‘Gender Diversity’ debate saw Tamara Ingram of JWT, Jane-Lin Baden of Isobar APAC, Atifa Silk of Campaign Asia and Philip Brett of TBWA APAC discuss what we need to do to change this internal cultural & operational imbalance. We also saw Joana Catalano of Google APAC, Anna Bishop Rehrig of Facebook, Bonnae Ogunlade of Carat APAC and Ruth Stubbs of iProspect Asia examine some fantastic research done by Dentsu-Aegis on the rise (and challenges) of female entrepreneurs in Asia.

You can’t argue with numbers; all 6 of the holding company CEOs are men. 50% of people working in advertising globally are women, yet in the creative department it is only 11%. According to Catalano, of all the entrepreneurs across Asia to receive funding, only 3% of them are female founders. Yet according to Dentsu-Aegis, 60% of women in Asia feel they are more ambitious than men, and are even more ambitious after they have had a baby.

Women are absolutely central to the growth of eCommerce in Asia over the next 5 years, as mobile and social technology stimulate a whole new stream of entrepreneurialism from social selling of clothes and make up, to fashion design and tech innovation. This is something Ogilvy have also profiled in depth, in their recently published V12 report which explores the major growth factors of the 12 fastest growing global economies: recently empowered women, of course being one of them.

One of the most disheartening takeaways these discussions, is that so much of the discrimination in our own industry, and in the sphere of start-up funding and grant decisions, is actually caused by unconscious bias. In some cases, from women as much as from men. It’s a judgment that often lives in the shadows of  big decisions and everyday discussions. It sits in meetings and hides in interviews. We’ve all recently seen people fall foul of this somewhat unconscious bias, thinking they are saying the right and fair thing, yet to many, they are actually saying or doing entirely the opposite.

Outside the industry last week, Twitter was alight with the notion of “Manterrupting” – when women are more regularly interrupted by men. We saw this bi-product of unconscious bias play out on the American stage, as Today Show host, Matt Lauer, interviewed Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. He was seen to interrupt Hilary more, ask her harder questions, and probe her responses more aggressively. According to TIME magazine, “Whether consciously or not, Lauer behaved toward the presidential candidates in a way that was consistent with much of the research about gender stereotypes and discrimination.”

Similarly, Sue Unerman of Mediacom and Kathryn Jacob of Pearl & Dean have just published a book entitled “The Glass Wall: Success strategies for women at work – and businesses that mean business” which focuses on the fact that women are still working in a man’s world, existing among unconscious male rules and values which they describe as “The Glass Wall”.

So what do we do about it? What was discussed at Spikes to change this?

First and foremost; women are helping each other out. Google’s Joana Catalano, who spoke on the ‘Female Identitiy in Emerging Markets’ panel, is on the board of Female Founders; an independent non-profit outfit focused on research, policy and advocacy action to support female entrepreneurs and aspiring business leaders in Singapore. Similarly, Dentsu-Aegis have launched Female Foundry, an initiative to mentor, develop and fund female-led start-ups that embody innovation, diversity, social sustainability and tech leadership.

Research such as our V12 and Dentsu Aegis’ #hearhervoice report can keep us on track, and hold us to the metrics of success for women over the coming years. Tamara Ingram and Philip Brett both discussed the importance of unconscious bias training in our organizations, for men and women of all ethnicities, to understand where our own personal bias lenses are influencing our decision-making. They also highlighted how vital it is to make structural improvements, from metrics and goals for diversity in the workplace to looking at the way we work, and why in fact many women choose to leave the industry to become entrepreneurs instead.

TBWA are looking at making the appointment of women into senior roles a business metric. The pros and cons of positive discrimination are a debate in their own right, but much like to South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, who announced earlier this year that he will “no longer beg for racial transformation in sports, but start forcing the country’s sporting federations to fulfil racial quotas,” perhaps there is in fact no other option. The quota in sports will force Federations to attract players of colour and develop them to a professional level, making a more systematic culture from a grassroots level of promoting players who – similarly to women – have been previously overlooked. Given that our industry has been led by men for the past 60 years, maybe we do need to do the same.

Lastly, we must look to promote and discuss more of our female role models; my favorite sound-bite from Tamara was her reference to the fact that it is politics that is leading the way in promoting female role models and female leaders. From Rwanda, where roughly 50% of the government is female, to female leaders in Germany, the UK, Myanmar and hopefully soon the US, we are starting to see a new era of leadership from the very top levels of our nations.

So women, do not despair. And men, do not tire of the debate. Keep going at it, keep refreshing it, keep it positive and keep it moving – because once we reach full equality, life certainly won’t be boring at all.

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