Women in advertising – liberating their talent

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Globally women make more than 80% of purchasing decisions, choosing everything from the family’s food and clothing to holidays and cars. So it seems only logical that their professional contributions would be essential within the advertising industry – an industry estimated by The Work Foundation to have added more than £15.6 billion pounds to the UK economy in 2008 with those figures only increasing year on year.

Advertising as a profession is primarily about calling attention to a brand’s products or beliefs to help shape consumer’s perceptions and encourage sales. But it has the power to go much further, to tackle difficult issues in society. Advertising can be a powerful force for social good encouraging changes in behaviour such as smoking cessation and avoiding drink driving or by holding a mirror up to unhelpful or out-dated societal norms, as with Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty.

For all these reasons, advertising is a lucrative and fascinating industry that attracts talented women at all levels. However, it is facing a serious challenge. In the UK women represent 55% of staff at junior levels but this figure drops drastically to approximately just 15% at senior levels. If advertising is directed primarily at those women making 80% of the purchasing decisions, it’s ridiculous not to have women involved in the creation of that advertising.

This career guide considers how women’s networks inside advertising agencies are stepping forward to try and tackle this ‘brain drain’ – the loss of senior women within the industry – and to encourage the career success of women working in this creative and fast-paced industry.

Publicis Groupe, founded in Paris in 1926 is now is one of the four largest holding companies in the world, owner of 1,306 creative agencies globally. The company saw that, as with other holding companies, throughout their agencies senior women were leaving or not advancing to board level and determined to look into why.

A taskforce was established to try and address this loss of talent. After much research and consideration it was decided that quotas or targets were not the solution. Women wanted to be promoted on merit alone. But they needed support and for the management to develop a greater awareness of the issues they faced in the workplace.

So in 2011 a women’s network – named ‘VivaWomen!’ in honour of the holding group’s French heritage – was publically launched at an event at Google’s offices in central London. More than 150 women and men from multiple Publicis Groupe agencies attended. Since then VivaWomen! has been rolled out globally and now reaches more than 2,000 women.

Before the launch of VivaWomen! many companies had small women’s initiatives or mentoring schemes, but the creation of a global network, personally encouraged by the group’s chairman, Maurice Levy, added both gravitas and a more centrally organised way to offer networking, learning opportunities and cross-referrals. To date more than 500 women from different agencies have actively participated in VivaWomen! initiatives.

Interestingly, as VivaWomen! operates across many corporate cultures, and indeed, countries, many different approaches have been observed. Some say that in the US women are focussed on getting through the glass ceiling and achieving board room status whilst in Asia, a key concern seems to be achieving work-life balance and promoting a more healthy approach to the number of hours worked. And in the UK some say women may be most concerned with issues of promotion and long-term success. Across all cultures women are concerned with equal pay, flexible-working conditions for parents of both genders and by the so-called ‘unconscious bias’ whereby men hire and promote in their own image.

The integrated network VivaWomen! attempts to help address all these issues, even if only by creating awareness at first. Organisers set up mentoring schemes, invite in inspirational speakers, organise group coaching or training sessions and generally share information, encouragement and resources.

But it was at digital agency Razorfish that the idea for a network like VivaWomen! first took root more than three-and-a-half years ago. Insights Director Nancy Rowe recognised that the company was losing key female talent – both in terms of women moving to other companies in order to advance their careers and in those who did not return after having children. What began as an informal discussion amongst female colleagues about the challenges facing women in a largely male organisation solidified into a small task force. With the support of Razorfish CEO Chris Mellish, Nancy began researching the issue. What she presented back to the UK board was crystal clear: businesses with gender-balanced boards perform significantly better financially and demonstrate much higher levels of staff satisfaction. Chris and the rest of the management team asked Nancy to suggest what could be done, and thus the precursor to VivaWomen! was born.

“Employer organisations, including advertising agencies, without 50% representation of women at senior levels and without a women’s initiative in place should be asking themselves why.” Nancy Rowe, Insights Director, Razorfish.

When Publicis Groupe too became concerned, they looked to Nancy to help guide their efforts. Indeed, she still takes an active role in VivaWomen! both at Razorfish in London and globally, sharing the responsibility for managing the larger group with colleagues from across the network including founding member Sarah Baumann, Managing Director of Atelier, part of the Leo Burnett Group and Mallika Basu, Director of Corporate at MSLGROUP.

The benefits of VivaWomen! events are clear. Attendees have reported a greater sense of being valued by their employer, a strengthened loyalty to their employer, and an increase in the confidence necessary to seek promotion and to actively discuss their career needs and ambitions with their managers. Human resource managers have reported enhanced employee retention and goodwill for the employer brand. It is funded by voluntary contributions from the individual agencies within Publicis Groupe.

The VivaWomen committee plans to build on the success to date by the creation of a bespoke on-line hub to centralise research, articles and other helpful materials; by curating events featuring more senior creative role models (creative departments employ the least number of women per capita) and by inviting additional volunteers to join in and share their own ideas for other projects and initiatives.

Networks like VivaWomen! ‘light fires’ that ignite potential and make a big difference over time. It’s inspiring to see that even a single person, spotting an area ripe for improvement can, in just a few years, make a tangible different to so many.

In 2014, I (Rachel Brushfield) was invited to do 3 events to support VivaWomen! on: ‘Career strategy and planning’, ‘Personal Branding’ and ‘Blowing your own trumpet’. Like Nancy Rowe, I was originally an account planner/strategist working in advertising. It is vital for women to identify insights and take responsibility for their own careers, with the help of initiatives like VivaWomen! so that they can liberate their talent and realise their full potential. VivaWomen!

This article is one of a series about women in advertising as part of a ‘Women at work’ feature by The Telegraph Media Group out 26 August 2014.

https://jobs.telegraph.co.uk/article/women-at-work-improving-the-careers-of-women-in-advertising-via-support-networks/

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