The ad industry talks a big game about female leadership. Does it walk the talk?

celtra_logo_updated-black-(1)smallThis is an installment in a series exploring Advertising Week. This series is sponsored by Celtra, provider of the first cross-screen HTML5 technology for brand advertising.


Women are a hot topic at this year’s Advertising Week. As Digiday’s John McDermott pointed out in a numbers-heavy post Monday, there are no fewer than seven panels on women, leadership and advertising planned this week. While more conversation about the issue can be a good thing — a recent study by the 3% Conference found that only 11 percent of creative directors are women — it might be worth asking why we’re still talking about this in 2014.

We asked various attendees and speakers at the confab to weigh in.

Shelley Zalis, founder, the IPSOS Girls’ Lounge and CEO, Ipsos OTX
If we are ever going to get more women to opt into senior leadership roles, we’re going to have to create a culture of care where we can all live lives with many dimensions. This means working environments that are flexible, businesses with clear purpose and a sense of direction that is meaningful, and management that is generous, respectful and motivating. And honestly, it’s not a gender issue. It’s a caregiver issue. Women are still the predominant caregivers – but this is an issue for anyone who has to take care of children or parents. We are forcing them to make choices — to choose family or work. And I say, shame on us. These caregiver traits, like empathy, generosity and patience — previously written off as “feminine” and therefore best left at home — turn out to be very effective leadership capabilities. We need these skillsets at the table. Caregivers opt out because they can’t do it all. And that is why it is so important to stop talking about these issues, and start taking steps to change the system so that we can blend work and life for everyone.

Jack Myers, chairman of MyersBizNet and the founder of Women in Media Mentoring Initiative
We continue to prioritize women’s leadership because women have successfully pushed their appropriate agenda front and center as a priority, and because women still do not hold a proportionate percentage of senior industry positions. On the media side of the advertising business, women hold the senior sales roles at ABC, NBCU, CBS, AMC/WE, and many other companies. Women are in an increasing number of senior roles at media agencies. But men still dominate the senior roles at most major media and advertising companies. The good news is that women hold more than 60 percent of the media community’s junior and mid-management jobs; among 18-34-year-olds, women earn on average 10 percent more than their male counterparts (across all industries). These women are becoming more career oriented and are less likely to leave their jobs when they have children, and they are getting married and having children later. So the trends are positive for women, and this bodes well for the industry.

Christine Fruechte, CEO, Colle+McVoy
It’s imperative that the conversation continues regarding the need for more female leadership in advertising. We may have made some progress but definitely not enough considering that women are the primary decision-maker for just about every household purchase. Women also bring much needed leadership skills that foster diversity of thought including empathy and collaboration. Let the conversation continue until leadership is more reflective of the world it serves!

Frederic Bonn, ECD, JWT New York
Why are we still talking about it? Well, it is quite simple: We are still talking because we haven’t achieved equal representation of men and women at the top. We haven’t achieved equal representation in advertising jury rooms. The same actions are still interpreted differently based on gender and stereotypes, even if not as outrageously expressed as in the past. So, yes, we are still talking about it and will continue to until all of this changes. I think the important element is that men need to be as vocal as women about the issue, and the “He for She” initiative is a great way to make this a bigger movement.

Kat Gordon, founder of the 3% conference
Yes, it’s discouraging that we’re still talking about female leadership in 2014. What makes me hopeful, however, is that we seem to be at the perfect crossroads of many influences that are bringing the conversation to a fever pitch. Social media alone cannot be underestimated. It’s highlighting the women who are breaking through, making brands and corporations publicly accountable when their diversity falls short, and allowing groups that support female leadership to find one another and amplify their message.

Image via Shutterstock

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