International Women’s Day. Time to reflect on what this means to the advertising industry and how balanced it is. Gender balance or #BalanceforBetter sounds to me like the Holy Grail of life.
Our industry has some gaps regarding the male-female ratio. We’ve traditionally seen meeting rooms largely of the male persuasion: director and management positions filled by men and an inexplicable pay gap – which still exists today. While there’s been a lot of movement in the right direction, issues remain and sometimes it’s the little things or unconscious bias that hold us back.
I’m the youngest in a long line of hard-working, successful women. My mother was a woman and her mother before her, and on it goes! Many of my female peers are company owners or executive producers. My role models have easily been developed as female. So, without having to read every feminist book on the planet, I have morphed into one naturally. While I have experienced gender bias, the men I’ve been surrounded by, do have a lot of respect for women.
I choose to have my own back, to support myself, say something when I want to say something, and to be mindful of our differences and not take them too seriously. If I can say something nicely, then job done. I don’t want these obstacles to prevent growth or success. I want to be accepted and to enjoy my job.
I’ve therefore never given gender bias too much thought until I climbed a bit higher, was handed more responsibility and a slightly better pay cheque. I knew it was there, but no one was saying anything or perhaps my voice was weak. Stepping up didn’t remove me from the odd bias. There are still occasions where in a meeting, past the formalities stage, comments are made that don’t relate to why I’m there. “You look nice today…”. “Nice hair…”. “Is that a new shirt?” … “Thank you, and can I have your fucking attention now?” I’ve also experienced interruptions, been overlooked with accolades and missed so much as a cursory glance my way at the table; behaviours which similarly seem to be reserved for women only.
My point is a woman doesn’t want to feel of value because she looks a certain way or has prowess over minor skills in a meeting or anywhere else in the workplace. Everyone wants to be taken seriously whatever the biological difference, free to speak their mind and not intimidated in doing so.
I don’t think men necessarily mean to exercise dominance. I’d argue that males just naturally become more male-focused in such an environment. Which begs the question, are females of the same behaviour? Just as men might habitually gravitate towards men, do women do the same thing when in the same room? To generalise, men have tendencies to form clubs, make decisions alone, rely on logic. Women communicate considerately, share, and are intuitive to other’s needs.
So how does gender balance work? Gender balance has the intention, over time to forge a more gender-balanced world, raise awareness against bias and find equality. Both sexes perfectly aligned and brilliantly equal. Is that possible? Maybe one day, but I’m sceptical about it happening within my time.
For my time, therefore, a tip of my hat goes to the initiatives that have been set up to do exactly that – to call out where women have been unfairly discriminated against. Free The Bid, 3% Collective and the 50/50 initiative have each worked to provide platforms for change, and a voice for female directors. It’s brought about an awareness of the issues we face with the lack of diversity and resulted in tangible change. Other campaigns that have spoken to me include ‘Fearless Girl’ and the very straight forward, no nonsense ‘How Unconscious Is Your Bias’ by Saatchi & Saatchi NZ and Champions for Change. I’m also grateful to and proud of the women I work with at Sweetshop and the standards the company set about in hiring the right people for the job, male and female. This to me is gender balance.
What is most important in the case for gender balance, is for everyone in our industry to have understanding and respect for the opposite sex to create change. I will always call you out on unconscious bias and I will expect others to remind me of my own. We need to see each other to grow. So, I’m starting this year with big attentive ears and a good dose of patience and kindness. I hope you will too.
- Fiona King is managing director and executive producer at Sweetshop.