Nurturing female talent | A big issue for the communications industry

Verity Brown, Head of Strategic Planning at The Specialist Works

When you work in an industry such as communications, where the fruits of our labours reach and engage so many, nurturing female talent to positions of influence has wide reaching repercussions.female talent

A lack of female voices at senior levels in the advertising world means in 2016 we’re still seeing outdated and misogynistic messages being celebrated at the highest level. In fact, we only need to cast our minds back as far as June, when this Aspirin ad took home a bronze Lion at Cannes for its sniggering celebration of non-consensual filming of sex.

Also, the response to Protein World’s 2015 “are you beach body ready?” campaign was an exercise in hasty post rationalisation with industry commentators celebrating the airbrushed ideals of female aesthetic as an exercise in ‘disruptive marketing’ one (male) industry commentator remarked;

“an impressive/insulting* creative execution only extends the admiration marketers should have for Staveley and his team.
*Delete according to your segment identity”

Here in lies the problem; these outdated and lazy stereotypes, perpetuated and celebrated by the male dominated upper echelons of advertising, are an issue for everyone. Not least the media industry itself, which by accident or design is failing to attract and retain top female talent.

Clearly we have a problem, and unfortunately it isn’t an isolated opinion, the advertising and media industry commands some scary statistics:

· 70% of young female creatives says they have never worked with a female creative director
· 60% of young females say they believe advertising is a career that doesn’t support young families

female talentIt’s unsurprising that 91% of female consumers feel advertisers don’t understand them.

Fundamentally, success in the communications industry is about engaging consumers and to engage, you must first understand. Combine this with the fact that women command 70-80% of the nation’s purchasing power and suddenly this failure gets a little embarrassing.

So, what can we do to ensure that women in our industry, so well represented at junior levels, are nurtured and supported through the crucial career development years where promotions so often stall or even cease? The years where family responsibilities seem so at odds with the requirements we perceive as vital in maintaining and building professional careers.

Personally, I’m lucky enough to work in a company that goes above and beyond to support flexible working with 22% of the female employees having flexible arrangements in place. The Specialist Works also offers an enhanced maternity package and a return to work bonus scheme, among many other incentives. These changes are no doubt linked to our superstar head of HR, Annalisa Gribble, a mum of 3 who set up and grew her own department, whilst working part time, flexible hours.

“I’ve felt nothing but support and encouragement from TSW. In my day-to-day role I’ve ensured this is not only a fundamental part of our employment policy but it’s also central to TSW’s recruitment strategy. – Annalisa Gribble

This approach is already helping us attract top female talent. Lucy Davis (mother of 2 young children and previously Marketing Director at Dennis Publishing) was recently hired as TSW’s Head of Brand Partnerships. Lucy approached the job market with flexibility and progressive attitude at the top of her ‘must have’ list.

“Many companies look for long hours as a sign of value but smart, and ultimately attractive employers, see beyond that; looking at personal commitment and effectiveness” – Lucy Davis

As TSW demonstrates, it’s the employers with the more progressive attitude that will attract the top talent, and TSW aren’t alone in seeing the opportunity. Other key players are stepping up too. In 2015 Virgin announced that parents, regardless of gender, can receive up to 100 per cent of their salary over 52 weeks of parental leave. Softer measures to support parents, where counselling helps them adjust to the balance they now need to strike between work and home life, is being offered at Aol.
It’s encouraging to see the adoption of more progressive approaches but, in the uncertain times ahead, we must not only continue to strive forward – we must look to secure the status quo as we move away from maternity rights currently underpinned by European law.
Furthermore it’s our role as media professionals, regardless of gender or ‘segment identity’ to ensure our sector is seen to understand the mood of the nation, not just half of it.

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