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She Says founder Laura Jordan Bambach on the continued need for equality in advertising

She Says was started by Laura Jordan Bambach and Alessandra Lariu when they became fed up with the lack of women in advertising. Ten years on, Its Nice That asked Laura what has changed and why, in 2016, the work done by She Says remains critical.

Ten years ago this November, Alessandra Lariu and I decided that we needed to tackle the gender imbalance across creative, design and tech head on, after finding ourselves on stage as the “token women” at one too many advertising events. When we were looking for hires within our own agencies, it was rare to see a woman’s CV. If 50% of all grads are women, we wanted to tackle the burning question: “Where do they go?”

Soon after we launched SheSays, an initiative designed to encourage more women to enter the creative industries and support women in these roles throughout their careers. Over the following decade we’ve seen it grow into a massive global network. 38 cities, 19 countries and counting, everywhere from LA to Dubai, Montevideo to Singapore. So how has the situation for women in advertising industry changed in the past ten years?

The situation for women is on the up

There are more young women seen around creative departments, and more fantastic organisations working towards gender parity from Ada’s List to Creative Equals.

Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of industry noise around whether the gender debate is over. Its not. It’s never been more important for us to keep pushing. The challenges we identified in 2006 still ring true. A lack of female role models and a dominant masculine view on what constitutes “great” creative leadership and ideas, a gender wage gap that’s unacceptably large, and the lacklustre representation of women in advertising driven by the lack of diversity in creative departments.

Senior Leadership

We have a crisis in management that needs attention. For too long, experienced and talented women have left the industry. It’s been lazily put down to motherhood and to priorities changing. Let’s take a moment to walk in these women’s shoes:

— You may worked in the industry for ten or more years, probably harder than your male counterparts.
— You may have been overlooked, spoken over, told you’re not leadership material – too soft.
— You might have been made a CD, but only on the stable beauty brand while your peers are handed the more dynamic automotive account with the awards potential.
— From the moment you “come out” as pregnant at work, you may have been treated differently. As incapable of having great ideas any more. Uncommitted.
— You come back to find yourself stuck without the opportunity to progress your career, forever branded a mother and therefore lacking the fire that great creative leaders need.
— You decide to leave and do something that is less destructive of your self worth. You may speak to HR about the real reasons, but you’ll probably keep it to yourself because your experience tells you that you won’t be heard and nothing will change.
— Your resignation will be announced as “wanting to spend more time with your family”.

These experiences are real, and ridiculously common. We see situations like this regularly through our network. Even without children, women have to work harder to be heard and taken seriously as creative leaders. Until we address this unconscious bias in the workplace, and treat it seriously, we will continue to haemorrhage talent. Until we support parenting rather than motherhood, we will undervalue and undermine some of the best thinkers and doers in the business.

The Gender Wage Gap

“If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man” – Theresa May, in her first statement as Prime Minister

There’s some positive movement on the gender wage gap. The hourly wages of female employees are currently about 18% lower than men’s on average, having been 23% lower in 2003 and 28% lower in 1993 according to a report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies earlier this year.

But 18% is a deplorable figure, and when you unpick the IFS report it becomes clear that parenting adversely impacts women fiscally too. In a punishing finding, there is a gradual but continual rise in the wage gap after a first child, and by the time the first child is aged 12, women’s hourly wages are a third below men’s. Again, it’s something we hear a lot about from both our mentors and mentees. Organisations like ours work hard to course correct this gap, and support women though the difficult conversations that are sometimes needed to gain parity.

Good For Business

“Women are the most powerful consumers on the planet, making 85% of all purchasing decisions…but 91% of female consumers feel advertisers don’t understand them” – Creative Equals

To change the story we need to change the storytellers and their place in creative departments, on the stage, on juries. We need more women to be able to speak to women in a way that resonates in the same way as we need more broadly diverse creative teams to represent the wonderful, global landscape of our audiences. It makes commercial sense, and we know from research that a more diverse team (and particularly a more diverse board) sees markedly better business results. So why are we so slow to embrace equality? It may be because it’s hard to see what needs changing — after all, its called a glass ceiling because you can’t see it — and harder to know where to start.

SheSays believes that through small actions, repeated often and at scale, we can transform the industry we love. Every one of our 40,000 members working together to inspire, learn from and support each other. We are working as hard as we can towards a future where there’ll be no need for organisations like ours. In the meantime, the bigger and more dynamic we are and the louder our voice, the faster we’ll get there.