The good and bad news for UK women in advertising in 5 charts

The advertising industry is paying more lip service to diversity than ever — whether that’s CMOs setting quotas for the makeup of their agencies or CEOs banning “vacuous” stereotypes about yogurt-eating, humorless women.

But the reality of women actually working in agencies is somewhat more complicated. There’s good news on progress, but it’s peppered with a ton of caveats.

In the U.K. specifically, gender equality is improving, though it’s happening at a glacial pace. And there is still work to be done to achieve parity between the sexes — both in pay and representation in advertising’s higher ranks. We take a look at the state of women in advertising in five charts.

The C-suite is changing, slowly
In the last 10 years, there has been an overall increase in the number of women in the C-suite. According to data from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) census, in 2006, women made up 23.3 percent of positions. In 2016, this had grown to 30.2 percent.

This works out to a 29 percent increase in women at C-level over the course of a decade, which is an improvement — but a slow one. At this rate agencies would need a further seven years to meet the IPA’s target of 40 percent female representation in senior positions by 2020, which is just three years away.

Plus, it’s an unsteady growth, too: 2016’s figures are below both 2014 and 2015 — when the IPA saw its highest figure yet — 33.1 percent. Based on the pattern so far, there’s no guarantee that this figure will rise in the short term.

“It’s a complicated issue to unpack,” said Louise Burgess, COO and Founder of Equimedia. “It’s not simply an issue of men holding the glass ceiling firmly in place within organisations.” Rather, she said, childcare responsibilities and a feeling of being under-qualified for top jobs a can also play a role.

“The concept of the creative industries being an environment where women simply will not be able to succeed due to inherent sexism is not a helpful one when attracting anyone ambitious to the sector,” she added.

Representation remains pear-shaped
The IPA’s definition of gender balance is 40 percent women or more. In its recent diversity survey, released this week in partnership with Campaign, the split of men and women at all agencies rounds out to two near-perfect halves (49.5 percent women).

However, that doesn’t tell the whole truth. In reality, the further up you go, the fewer women you’ll find. And, so it follows, the lower you go, the more women you’ll find.

The most junior roles in advertising are filled by women 56.7 percent of the time at media agencies and 55.4 percent of the time at creative agencies. This is double the percentage of women seen in CEO, chair and managing director roles.

The IPA’s finance research consultant Roger Ingham said this points to some of the issues for women who choose to have children mid-career. “Although the industry has made great strides, advertising is not a family-friendly business,” he said.

There’s also a difference between creative and media agencies. Media agencies have more women at the top, and 54.3 percent of their middle managers are women (nearly 5 percent more than creative agencies).

According to Burgess, this is no surprise. Media agencies have housed a “number of high-profile trailblazers” who have laid the groundwork for other women.

“It’s impossible to underestimate the importance to many women working their way through the ranks of having positive role models to show that that hard work and effort can be worth it,” she said. “Otherwise, it can be very easy for women to think that the highest levels of a business may forever be inaccessible, and to get discouraged.”

Meanwhile Ingham said the skew has a lot to do with the dominance of men in creative roles, which are typically the route to the C-suite at creative agencies. “We see a 70/30 split between men and women in those creative roles, so it’s another barrier,” he said.

The pay disparity is real
Pay disparity is another hot topic for diversity advocates. And the data suggest it pervades in advertising, though there is a debate over exactly how much.

The IPA’s agency report, which draws in 131 of its members, says the gap between men and women’s wages is “marginal” across all tiers — never more than 1.6 percent.

However, the wider data suggest the gap is more dramatic. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), account managers in the sector were paid 15.2 percent less than their male counterparts in 2016, while directors were paid 1.8 percent less.

Aside from the ONS’s bigger sample size, Ingham suggested that the difference could be due to agencies not supplying the IPA with full salary levels for different jobs, citing data protection. Instead, the IPA had to compare an average percentage of staff with an average percentage of salaries.

A 2016 survey of 4,000 marketers by the Chartered Institute of Marketing had a similar gap, which was biggest among heads of department (25 percent) and board-level (16 percent).

There’s a communication gap, too
While the IPA opened its survey up to more members this year and found most to be amenable, there’s still some confusion among employees over their company’s policy around tackling diversity issues including gender.

Three-quarters of the 4,000 marketers in the CIM survey said U.K. marketing has a discrimination problem.

Half of marketers aren’t aware exactly what their company line is on diversity issues, and under 30 percent said their organization shares equality and diversity performance with anyone at all.

Elaine Bremner, head of HR at MediaCom, said the real issue in agency culture is that “people don’t think about it.”

“We have always had senior women leading the business but it’s also about showing women you don’t have to be at desk 24/7 to do a good job,” she said.

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