While he was the Chief Marketing Officer of SoulCycle, Spencer Rice would often meet with teams from various agencies. Sometimes, he encountered a non-starter before a word was ever spoken.
“A lot of teams came in, and it was all men,” Rice recalls. That should be a problem regardless of the brand the agency is meeting with. But it was especially eye-opening for Rice. “If you walk into a SoulCycle class, you’ll see that there are 75% women,” he said. “When agencies sent in groups that didn’t have women, it was just an immediate snub, it was a no. This wasn’t going to work.”
It’s not just an issue for agencies, but all companies. The panel, hosted by Ogilvy & Mather’s Worldwide Chairman and CEO John Seifert, focused not just on the gender imbalance in workplaces, but how to remedy the situation. Men still dominate the population of executive committees and boardrooms the world over, but it’s not on one gender or the other to make lasting change. Both must shoulder the load and fight against their often unconscious biases that lead to gender imbalance.
Judging by the staggering number of panels at Advertising Week and similar industry events around topics of gender imbalance and inclusion, there’s little chance anyone can claim ignorance anymore. Now, it’s about doing something. Madeline DiNonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media urged change agents to start young, creating a new normal. “If you want to change the world overnight, change the mind of a child,” DiNonno said. If children grow up in a culture where men and women are truly equal, they very well may have less unconscious bias to fight against. That can result in a more gender-balanced and fair world.
Starting with today’s youth, however, will mean that change—while potentially lasting—can take a very long time to arrive. There are things that both male and female business leaders can do today to create a more diverse and representative workforce. Lauren Crampsie, Chief Marketing Officer of Ogilvy & Mather, hopes women feel comfortable enough to approach their male counterparts who are guilty of either succumbing to inherent bias or exuding poor judgment.
“I think it’s about women being able to stand up to men who aren’t doing what they need to be doing, men who do have unconscious biases and are saying cringe-worthy things,” Crampsie said. “And it doesn’t have to be confrontational, it doesn’t have to be scary. It can just be a teaching moment.”
Often, the way an issue like gender balance in media and business is talked about creates a lot of noise, which according to Seifert, is “drowning out material accountability and performance, whether it’s more balanced representation in boardrooms or senior leadership teams.” Seifert has publicly stated his intention to have half of the agency’s senior management be comprised women, a change he wants to bring about quickly. The men that currently make up the overwhelming percentage of senior leadership positions are in a unique position to directly implement change. It can’t solely be on women—who have often done more work yet received less reward for it—to stand out.
And as Rice’s observation pointed to, gender equality isn’t merely a moral case, but a business imperative.
“One of the lessons I’ve learned being in our industry for so long is that once clients decide they want to do something they think is the right thing to do, or is in their business interests, they will move very quickly,” Seifert said.
And move quickly they must. Millennials and Gen Xers care about how brands are communicating with them. If the teams crafting the messages aren’t diverse, the message itself won’t connect, or worse. It may be outright rejected.
Actions can also have unintended consequences, so leaders do have to be cognizant of all the ways a change initiative can affect the business and its people. Crampsie noted that if women are put onto teams or leadership positions, that doesn’t mean it’s time for men to step away altogether.
“I think the one thing we can’t let happen is get ourselves in a situation where men are relying on women to kind of plug a hole and fill a gap that actually requires them to work more, and the men to work less,” Crampsie said. “We need to make sure that it is, truly, sharing the load.”