Annette Male, who has held the role of APAC CEO of Wunderman Thompson, the agency recently formed by the merge of JWT and Wunderman, since January, outlined her points for progress at Campaign's Women Leading Change event in Singapore, speaking to an audience of leading senior agency and brand figures from around the region.
At the event, the heads of the five biggest ad agency networks each presented an update on the initiatives and projects they have instigated since Campaign's Mandate for Change was launched in 2017. While Male described this progress as “heartening”, she also said she thinks “so much more” needs to be done.
Here is Male's shortlist of 20 suggested paths to progress.
1. Encourage truly open conversations
We need to be “really transparent” about wanting to make changes, said Male, creating talking sessions where people feel “really, really comfortable”. Male referred to the closed-door ‘live mentoring’ session she took part in at the beginning of the day at Women Leading Change, in which she was one of five senior female leaders sharing particularly honest learnings about their careers and experiences with around 35 female members of the industry, as a good example of how such sessions could look.
2. “Be brave” to make unfavourable statistics public
“We are all slightly embarrassed” about the current industry statistics, which paint a poor picture of equality and diversity in their workforces, said Male. The third annual piece of research by Campaign and Kantar, for instance, recently published, showed that various measures of equality, such as how many people feel men are more respected than women in the workplace, have actually deteriorated since 2017. Male insists such measures are crucial to share, even if they don’t look favourable. “We need to have a starting point,” she said. “Being brave part is making these statistics public… and setting plans against them.”
3. Define what diversity and inclusion means for your business
D&I covers such a huge breadth of topics – Male referenced religious beliefs, race, disabilities, generations, to name but a few – that part of the problem is simply working out where to begin. Think about the best starting point for your business, she advised, whether that involves employing inclusion officers, implementing audits around inclusivity or other measures to create an environment where “everyone feels the same”.
4. Understand the gender pay gap and agree what to do
“Along with the stats, this is a really important topic and it’s something that I’m briefing out to our finance teams across all the offices, looking at those different levels and again being very clear within those salary bandings where people sit and where we need to be and putting a plan in place to change it,” said Male.
5. When you hire, ensure a really good gender balance of CVs
Male says she has actively recruited for females to join teams that have had a poor gender balance. “I still very much recruit on who the best person is for the job but sometimes you need to shift the approach,” she says.
6. Leadership teams should aim for minimum 40% women
Plenty of companies have already hit and exceeded this target, but Male chose 40% as a minimum aim for those who aren’t yet even close to a 50% target, she explained.
7. Be more open about flexible working and build it into policies
Flexible working arrangements “absolutely can work”, according to Male, despite being quite limited in this region, particularly at agencies. “I believe that if you trust your team and they’re doing a good job, then they can do that good job within the hours that work for them (and obviously clients, if you’re client facing), and it doesn’t really matter where you do that.”
8. Look after middle management
Touring her 11 regional markets recently, Male consciously spent time with mid-level teams as well as leadership. “I’ve probably got the most out of those sessions,” she said, “from understanding the questions that they’re asking about business, about their own futures and careers and learnings.” She referenced the importance of putting programmes and mentorship in place for these mid-level employees – one JWT initiative that will soon be built into Wunderman Thompson is called Future Co, which encourages future senior leaders of the business to help drive strategy and direction.
9. Unconscious bias training for all
Getting people to change how they think and approach things is more than one training session, noted Male, so unconscious bias coaching needs to be ongoing, and must be built in to policies and protocols.
10. Encourage inclusivity through clients’ work
If agencies talk about inclusivity in their own businesses, said Male, they also should encourage this through clients’ work. She gave the example of a creative colleague working on Tommy Hilfiger business in North America who, since losing the use of her arms two years ago to a mystery illness, has worked to develop a range called Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive specifically designed for differently abled people.
11. Singles count too
Male cautioned that people without families can sometimes be taken for granted because others see it as acceptable to expect them to work late, work at weekends, or jump on a plane at short notice. Single people have their own commitments and personal lives too, Male reminded the audience.
Annette Male at Women Leading Change
12. Make it easy for mothers to return to work
“Think about transitions going back to work. It’s hard going from being on full-time maternity leave to full-time work,” said Male. She wants more companies to consider phased approaches and also make sure they have a mothers’ room set up - “and not just a dingy cupboard”.
13. Paternity and maternity leave policies - do they work?
The majority of maternity leave policies in this region still sit at around the 4-month mark, pointed out Male. This compares to the European standard of a year, and the ability to choose how much each individual wants to take within that. She sees paternity leave as equally important, partly because it helps fathers to connect with their children but also because it gives mothers a break. “Think about do they [your policies] actually work for your team and the business?”
14. Don’t just say you have 'zero tolerance' on harassment
“That’s a really easy statement to make,” said Male, “and harassment covers so much from sexual harassment… to bullying or violence at work.” She calls for training and clarity on harassment to help people understand the process and consequences of reporting any inappropriate behaviour. Male also highlighted that some of worst workplace bullying she has seen or heard about has come from women.
15. Have a transparent process regarding complaints
There are situations in which people don’t feel comfortable speaking to their line manager or HR teams, Male said, because these are usually people closely connected with leadership. WPP has ‘right to speak’, she noted, a hotline people can use to share behaviours they have seen or experienced.
16. Break the gender stereotyping roles
HR professionals don’t have to be majority women, just as tech employees don’t have to be majority men. “It’s how we hire and how we actually think about those roles that we’re wanting to hire for and break [the stereotypes], and when you have broken them, champion those people and communicate to everyone.”
17. Cultural sensitivity for social events
Especially important in this region, Male said companies need to be more considerate of people’s different beliefs and preferences when arranging work events, which don’t have to be 100% focused around alcohol.
18. Include men in the process
“Men are not there to rescue us or save us, they’re there to help educate other men in terms of how to be decent human beings and also we need them to help support our efforts,” said Male.
19. Taking holiday should be seen as positive
Readily admitting that she can’t directly link this point to diversity and inclusivity, taking all one’s allocated holiday is a particular passion point for Male. “You’re not seen as being clever or really successful by not taking holiday.” Male is proud that she negotiates 26 days a year, and she “never, ever” doesn’t use these.
20. Be part of making a difference
Male had one final, broad lesson for the industry. “Be active, be positive, don’t moan, because there’s lots for us to moan about in the current situation, but do something about it, whether that is driving education, being part of training programmes, speak up with a solution on how you think things should be done, don’t leave it just to the management and leadership team. Go out and find out what your stats are, do your audits and agree your benchmarks on what you want to achieve as a business.”
Here’s hoping for 2020.