Business of Men

Ignoring the gender imbalance is leaving money on the table


Perhaps the most misquoted piece of wisdom is that “great minds think alike”. It’s actually a two-part proverb, which finishes, “but fools seldom differ”.  At times, I think that it’s a sadly accurate reflection of our industry.

While a bunch of old white men – a triumvirate of descriptors to which I’ll admit fulfilling two (you pick) – pat each other on the back for all the great idea one has that the others all think is spot on, isn’t there a real risk that these are actually the ideas of a bunch of like-minded fools?

Advertising is supposed to speak to targeted audiences, not just to men who can trace their ancestry back to northern Europe. And while I would never suggest that you have to be of a certain race, gender, colour or creed to have ideas relevant to that demographic, it’s just common sense that a broad spectrum of people will come up with an equally broad spectrum of different ideas and approaches to problems.

Yet our industry continues to be dominated by caucasian males at the top.

Late last year, The Agency Circle surveyed 1,211 employees from 15 Aussie agencies, with the results finding that 85% of agency staff were Caucasian and while women outweighed men in total numbers, men made up 84% of C-suite level positions.

Things started to even up a little more at the next level down, although men still had the balance of power, taking up 60% of senior executive level positions.

Diversity isn’t always a good thing

Last year, PwC released a report, entitled The Australian Entertainment and Media Outlook 2016 – 2020, which discussed both the pros and cons of diversity in talent hire.

And yes, there are cons.

Specifically, differing levels of education in senior management results in worse outcomes, while a diverse production line is often less cohesive.

But perhaps the most infuriating way that diversity can be seen as a negative is simply for those who are in the minority, the report stating, “That can be a miserable experience; research shows you are less likely to be promoted and more likely to receive poor performance ratings. The result is you’re more likely to have a higher absentee rate and a shorter tenure at the company.”

The reason being in the minority can be so negative is chalked up to two factors: unconscious bias and similarity attraction. Basically, people tend to better like people who are similar to themselves. And that’s also why there can be such a dearth of diversity in hiring talent: people are just inclined to give the gig to the person they can identify with most easily.

Why our industry needs diversity

But it’s more than fair to say that the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to diversity.

Perhaps most importantly, diversity fuels innovation. Forbes published an insight, ‘Fostering Innovation Through a Diverse Workforce’, where the first key finding read:”Senior executives are recognizing that a diverse set of experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds is crucial to innovation and the development of new ideas.”

It was pretty much the top pro in PwC’s paper as well, finding, “In creative or intellectual tasks, study after study has shown that more alternatives arise from a greater number of perspectives. While you might take longer to get to a decision it will be ultimately a better one.”

I’d say that it’s so obvious an insight that it borders on the ridiculous to have to point it out – different people with different lives and life skills will bring a wider variety of ideas, no doi! – except those same-same stats about the top brass in our industry suggests the message isn’t getting through.

Forget what’s fair, let’s talk money

It’s a huge issue that women are so underrepresented in positions of power. We should be striving for equality, and it’s a slight on our whole industry that we’re so far away from what anyone could consider a fair go.

But let’s put aside the equality debate for a moment – because apparently the ‘it’s the right thing to do’ angle doesn’t get results. So let’s break it down to a purely selfish way of thinking: a lack of diversity is simply leaving money on the table!

There are only two studies listed above, but I’m yet to read a single investigation in diversity that doesn’t reach the same conclusion (and personal experience backs this finding to the hilt).

How can you accurately speak to a broad range of people and their experiences – and therefore give the best possible outcome to your client – if the vast majority of the final say lies with a group of people who simply don’t understand the experience of most of the audience they’re supposed to be appealing to?

And if you’re not speaking to the audience, the client will get suboptimal returns – and the less money they make, the less money the agency makes.

Forget political correctness or fairness and equality, how about just abiding by best practice? Doing the thing that gets the best results for your business and your clients?

It really is that simple (although I feel dirty all over for bringing it up, and now I need to take a shower).

About Claire Fenner

Claire Fenner is the General Manager of Media for Atomic 212. At just 31 years of age, she already has a considerable industry pedigree, and is a formidable media operator. Claire prides herself on her strong leadership, her flair for client relationships and her impressive media negotiation skills. She has worked previously at Carat as Director of the largest media account in the country, Woolworths, and cut her teeth as Business Director at boutique media agency Cut Above Media. Claire’s mantra is “Results, Results, Results”. Just look at the work she did with Woolworths, where she spearheaded a project that saw the supermarket chain nab a healthy 2% market share from Coles in a single campaign.

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