The new girls’ club

March 8th was International Women’s Day, celebrating female achievement and raising awareness of the challenges faced by women around the world on the long, pothole-ridden road to gender equality.

As two women running an agency, we’ve succeeded by bringing a uniquely feminine perspective to solve our clients’ marketing problems. So, while some great stuff has already been written on International Women’s Day, we thought we’d take this opportunity to look back on our own experiences of going toe to toe with the boy’s club.

Step into the Charm time machine as we travel back to the 90s, when print was king, and deals were done over boozy lunches instead of Zoom meetings. I was working as an account director at a well-known DM agency and pretty much everyone else, from the creatives to the printers, was a big swinging dick.

It doesn’t seem that long ago, but even in the late 90s, women weren’t taken very seriously in ad land. No matter how hard you worked or how much you contributed to the profitability of the business, you’d occasionally be gently reminded of your gender. We were taught to hide our success and not show how capable and talented we actually were.

You can imagine the eye-rolling when back in 1998, this ballsy chick arrived, taking on the big boys with her own production company. I got to know Jo Tacon because she took my campaigns from the drawing board and got them into people’s letterboxes. Little did I know I’d be starting an agency with her 20 or so years later.

Jo and I have forged our own paths in the industry to arrive at the same point today and along the way we’ve experienced a quantum shift in the way the industry works.

Back then, the most important demographic used to be housewives, who were targeted with strategies created by men. Today, we’re much more aware of who and how we’re targeting with the content we produce. The move to digital has helped change how women are perceived in the industry, largely because it wiped the slate clean and we all had to start from scratch.

Over the years, clients have come to expect a level of arrogance from agencies but at Charm, ‘female’ values like empathy and listening shape our culture and our brand. We’ve found that nurturing talent and mutual respect delivers the best results.

Being female-led helps us deliver better service, but ultimately, everyone at Charm is here because of ability, not gender. Diversity recruitment is a step in the right direction, but ultimately, we must be judged on our talent and achievements, not just to tick boxes.

Honest and robust communication is key and it’s something that was certainly absent in the industry when we began our careers.

Female leaders tend to be more visible – probably because they have to shout louder to be heard – but there’s still a surprisingly small number of women running agencies or in the top creative roles. Sexism is still alive and well but now, it’s often cloaked until you belatedly realise that’s why you did or didn’t get certain opportunities.

Of course, every cloud has its silver lining and dealing with sexism has taught us not to give up when adversity hits. If you get knocked down, get straight back up again, learn and move forward. And move forward we will, even if there’s a way to go until we see real equality in the industry.

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