The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Greater Female Leadership Is About More Than Just About Equality, It’s A Chance For The Industry To Grow And Discover …

When you think of heads of planning, who are the names that come to you first?

Weigel?
Davies?
Kay?
Even – god forbid – Campbell?

I’m pretty sure that whoever you are, the number of male names outstrips the number of female names.

While there’s a number of reasons for this, one of the main ones is the simple fact there’s more men at the top of the planning tree than women.

Of course there’s some female leaders…

The brilliant Sarah Watson at BBH, the wonderful Amanda Feve at Anomaly Amsterdam, the incredible Lucy Jameson at Uncommon London, the fantastic Stephanie Newman at 72&Sunny Amsterdam, the epic Jessica Lovell at Adam & Eve, the awesome Emma Cookson at You & Mr Jones, the irrepressible Jess Greenwood at R/GA and the incredible Heidi Hackemer, now at the Chan Zuckerberg Institute, to name a few.

But it’s very few.

Even with the names I could have added – such as Mollie Hill at 72&Sunny Sydney to Deutsch’s own Lindsey Allison – it’s nowhere near enough … and it only gets worse when you look for people of colour.

What makes this more frustrating is there’s a ton of phenomenal planning talent out there who happen to be female who could/should be running departments but aren’t.

From personal experience, I could quickly throw out names like Paula Bloodworth, Kaichin Chang, Kelsey Hodgkin and Heather LeFevre – who did so much for the planning community with her planner survey and book – and while they are all senior, incredibly well respected individuals in their respective departments [though Kaichin is currently involved in another venture] none are formally leading their departments.

I know there’s probably a bunch of reasons for this.

Some may be valid, most probably not … at least not in terms of giving a clear, none-ambiguous explanation of why the planning community has so few female leadership in comparison to men.

Which can only lead to one reason.

Sexism.

Now I am not suggesting there’s an overt desire to hold women back, but the evidence suggests it’s happening.

I personally think one of the reasons is companies making candidates meet with loads of people throughout the interview process.

Given the law of adland-averages means most of the senior leaders that candidates will meet will be [white] men – and there’s a fair chance that at least one of them will prefer to work with a male rather than a female – that immediately places an additional obstacle for women to overcome compared to male counterparts.

Which becomes a thousand times harder if you’re a person of colour.

And this is where I get especially annoyed because this attitude is screwing over more than just female candidates, but the whole industry.

I’m not just saying this because I think there should be more female leaders – though there should – I’m saying this because I believe female leaders bring something to the table that is different from men.

Note I said ‘different’, not better. Or worse.

And what is this difference?

Well there’s a couple of things …

One is how men and women deal with situations.

While a great planner is a great planner regardless of gender or cultural background … having more women in positions of power will allow their approaches, perspectives and/or habits to come to the fore … approaches, perspectives and/or habits that offer a real alternative to the current, male-dominated and created way of doing things.

This will push us to think in different ways.

Take us to new places.

Encourage us to try new approaches.

For me, that’s very exciting but it can’t happen unless we put – or create additional space – for more female leadership while giving them the authority to make the choices they feel are the right things to do without barriers or hindrance.

And hey, even if their approach remains relatively the same to what’s been there before [though we never know unless we let it] we not only end up with a highly talented planners in leadership position … but ones who will also act as a role-model for young, female talent and that can only be a good thing, especially as, in my experience, women are not self-obsessed [like men] with ‘getting to the top’, but want to find better ways to do things. For everyone. Which is the sort of generosity that creates something special for all involved.

The second is a situation that occurred a few months ago.

Let me backtrack …

This week I will be going to Amsterdam to teach at Hoala.

While that is bad news for the people who have paid the course, it’s good news for you as this is the last blog post for 2 weeks.

TWO!!!

Anyway, a while back I got contacted by a number of women saying it was ridiculous than of all the lectures at HOALA, only one was female.

One.

I agreed but said that given HOALA was founded by a woman, I am sure there is some reason for it even if it felt a bit mad.

They rightfully pushed back on me.

They asked if I’d give my place up for a great female planner to take my place.

This left me in a quandary because I adore teaching this course and feel I have something that can be of real benefit for the attendees and yet their argument was pretty sound.

So I came up with an alternative.

While the course this coming weekend states it’s just going to be me, it’s not.

I’m flying over the brilliant Paula Bloodworth to join me in co-running the course.

For those who don’t know Paula, she is head of planning for NIKE at Wieden London.

She’s one of the people behind this.

Told you she’s ace.

Anyway, I had the great pleasure of working with her at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai so I’ve asked Paula to co-run our session.

I want her to talk about her perspective … her challenges … her thoughts/ideas and approaches to moving the industry – and the women in the industry – forward.

I want her to disagree with me, question the attendees, question the way the industry is moving forward and what we can all do to help change it.

Not because I like conflict [though I kinda do], but because her additional perspective will help the attendees learn far more than if it was just me.

Or another male.

For the record, when I told HOALA, they were nothing but supportive and excited and have gone out of their way to make sure she will feel welcomed and valued.

As I knew they would be.

But my shame is that I needed someone to push me to do this.

Not specifically to get Paula to come with me, but to do something that showed my genuine commitment to improving equality.

There’s 3 reasons for this self-disappointment …

The first is my parents brought me up to see equality, something we’re trying to do with Otis.

The second is I’ve had the privilege of living and working in many countries so experienced first hand the benefits of cultural diversity as well as the dangers of racial/gender stereotyping – something I hope I actively pushed against and continue to push against. [Though you would need to talk to some of my ex-collegaues to find out if I’m full of shit]

But it’s the third reason that really pisses me off because I should have absolutely not needed any encouragement to act given the things I’ve seen, experienced, got very angry about and acted against in my short-time in America.

Watching how so much of white America deals with issues relating to African American and Latino rights – even when they’re in support of racial equality – has shown me that just saying stuff ends up being nothing more than compliance with established rules and behaviors.

I admit it took me some time to realise that, but it’s absolutely true which is why I’m genuinely grateful to the women who [respectfully] called me out and I hope my action shows how seriously I’ve taken your pushback.

It is also why I have full intention to do something like I’ve done with Paula whenever I’m asked to speak/attend a conference … even if that means I eventually don’t get asked to speak/attend a conference.

But let’s be honest, this is a small thing.

A very small thing.

The reality is real change can’t happen if we don’t make it happen or if we put limits on how senior female planning leads are allowed to tackle their job because all that does is create a different set of problems women have to deal with that can hold them back.

I had originally written that because of this situation, I will continue to give preference to hiring senior female leaders however an employment lawyer friend of mine ‘advised’ me to state I believe the industry has to give preference to hiring more senior female planning leaders.

Regardless of which way I say it, this isn’t because I want to stop male talent moving forward – that literally couldn’t be further from the truth – it’s because women are equally as talented and I believe the only way to create greater equality is to [momentarily] skew to increase the odds of change and while that may end up costing me a position in the future, it means I can look my son in the eye and tell him equality is not what you say, but what you do.

No comments on this post [though you can if you have a LinkedIn account] as I want to keep the abuse out. By abuse, I mean the people who will insult me for being away again as no one should argue with my view about more female leadership.

See you back on the 23rd.

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