The twin problems of gender bias and sexual harassment in the advertising industry will likely be examined more closely than ever in 2017.
Only 4.6% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are female. A 2016 study conducted by the 4A’s found that over half of women in advertising have experienced sexual harassment, and 54% believe that their gender has made them vulnerable in the workplace. And while nearly 80% of household purchasing decisions are made by women, women are not well represented in creative leadership positions at agencies (only 11.5% percent of creative directors are female).
As a female Chief Operating Officer at an independent ad agency, and as a mother to a daughter, I’d like to ensure that the young female professionals at my office don’t have to suffer harassment or bias, and that my daughter will be judged on her thinking and her character — not her looks.
It’s more important than ever that our thinking be driven by different perspectives.
What can I do? I don’t have all the answers. But I will continue to bring awareness to the issue and work to implement policies and practices at my own agency that support positive change. And while there is no quick fix, here are 10 suggestions to help promote a positive work environment for all employees:
1. Create a clear, unbiased, non-retaliatory discrimination policy that ensures employees have a proper way to comment or report on inappropriate treatment in the workplace. Make sure everyone knows and understands the policy.
2. Agency leadership must establish core values that promote diversity and inclusion, and set a standard for what’s acceptable — and unacceptable — behavior.
3. Educate agency staff on subconscious bias, sexual harassment and discrimination. The first step to stopping it is recognizing it.
4. Openly discuss diversity, discrimination and gender bias as a team. Get people comfortable talking about the uncomfortable. Try forming a diversity group that helps lead the conversation.
5. Institute hiring and promotion practices that have clear review criteria, so evaluation is less subjective and less likely to be affected by subconscious bias.
6. Frequently review salaries for parity between genders, races and other diverse categories. Track voluntary turnover by these categories as well.
7. If you’re a hiring manager, strive to hire someone on your team who doesn’t look like you. If you’re a resource manager, consciously work to assign teams that have a diverse group of people represented. Collectively, you will have unique and valuable POVs to solve problems better together.
8. Make your workplace friendly for working moms. Implement flex schedules, maternity leave, wellness room, teleworking options or other flexible policies.
9. Promote a culture of meritocracy, where great ideas can — and should — come from all levels, genders, races, etc., and all voices are welcome and respected around the table.
10. Review your agency’s work to ensure you are accurately and fairly representing gender and diversity in your clients’ advertising. Be proud of the message this sends to society.
Our business is to connect brands with consumers. Today’s consumers are comprised of different ages, races, genders, sexual orientation, religions and nationalities. That’s why it’s more important than ever that our creative thinking be driven by different perspectives and life experiences that yield richer, more thoughtful solutions. Celebrating diversity and inclusion does not only feel good, it’s good business.