Digital agencies are behind the curve when it comes to diversity at a senior level and it’s only going to hurt them, says Ann Ystén, CEO of Perfect Fools.
I am a female CEO of a digital agency. That makes me very rare indeed. This summer I attended an international conference along with more than 100 CEOs from the industry. There were three women, two from Sweden and one from Australia.
I doubt there’s any other sector of the advertising business where there would be such a gender in-balance. In fact, since I started working in digital I have been surprised that the culture is even more male than the beer and spirits industry, where I worked for a long time.
Across our industry you can find successful female leaders in every sector except one. The irony of this situation is that digital is meant to be the future. It’s meant to be where advertising is moving and it’s meant to be the place where our industry really engages consumers.
For businesses that claim to be all about the knowing the now and exploring the future, it feels like we are stuck in a bygone age.
I believe we need to start a change and at the top by recruiting more great female managers. The agencies that do this will find that it helps their bottom line.
A skill, not a talent
Good leadership is gender neutral. Good leadership is not a talent, it’s a skill. There are many great male CEOs but diversity in all its forms in our industry is business critical.
While there is a perception that digital agencies are populated by male computer nerds. I believe that many clients would welcome more women at all levels. Many already demand a gender-neutral team or at least some females.
Diversity brings different views into the room and helps us reflect the society we live in. That means the ideas we come up with are likely to have been more tested and challenged before they see the light of day.
If digital agencies are populated only by a certain kind of people with similar background they will only create a similar approach to solving our clients’ challenges. For me it’s not an equality debate but about helping us deliver the best solutions that we can.
The truth is that there are some great women in digital agencies but they don’t always get the recognition they deserve or push for the leadership roles they should have.
If agencies are populated only by people with a similar background they will only create a similar approach to solving our clients’ challenges
The old rule that he who shouts loudest get the prize counts appears to apply particularly in digital. This can create a culture that promotes self-confidence and loud voices, management by fear and a group of idols and followers.
New groups such as WomenthatUX are fantastic but why are they even needed and, if they are, then why has it taken so long for them to be set up?
I’ve been lucky in my career to have been supported by some great male CEOs and mentors but also to have had clients who have insisted that a socially representative team (including senior women) worked on their account.
There are things that we can do to improve the situation.
First I believe that we need to invest in leadership and management skills for all our staff. Whether the person promoted as a result is male or female, better management will ensure that we work in offices where everyone’s voice is fairly heard and respected.
Second, we need to address our culture to make our workplaces more female (and diversity) friendly. I once told a creative director who yelled a lot that men yell when frustrated while women cry. Every time he yelled, I told him, I assumed he was crying with frustration. The office was a lot quieter after that.
The more we can drive these changes. The more likely we are to be able to come up with new, more effective solutions to our clients’ challenges.