Equality is something I feel passionately about on a personal level, we all deserve the fundamental opportunity to fulfil our own potential. One of my job perks is meeting countless passionate, bright women across the world. They inspire me daily to create an equal playing field, where their voices and opinions are as significant as their male colleagues’.
However, I also care about gender equality from a rational, leadership perspective. It makes good business sense. If we don’t challenge inequality now, the OECD gender pay gap (currently 16 percent) won’t close for another 95 years and untapped female potential could cost the global economy $12 trillion by 2025. Equality is especially relevant to our industry. Globally, women control more than $20 trillion in annual consumer spend. That’s 85 percent of total spend in every category, and it’s predicted to rise.
Disparate region, common problem
Asia-Pacific is a vast and disparate region, which presents an obvious challenge in generalizing gender gaps. As an example, 15.4 percent of CEO positions in Australia are held by women, which—while far from representative—bests the US, where only 4 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies are held by women. Meanwhile, in Japan, women hold just 1 percent of CEO positions, and in India only 30 percent of educated women make it to even junior level roles. Unequal access to education is a large part of the problem, but it isn’t the whole picture.
Women in APAC are still hugely underrepresented at the top of the corporate ladder. One in three businesses across the region have no women at all in leadership roles. 39 percent of APAC boards are still all-male. MasterCard recently shared findings that despite women outnumbering men in university positions, they lag far behind when it comes to filling leadership positions in business and politics. There’s clearly a long road to travel if we want to reap the benefits of gender equality.
Time for change
At Maxus, we’re proud to have strong female representation at the senior level (women account for 40 percent of our local leaders), bucking a trend of poor gender diversity on boards in the APAC region. The APAC ExCo has nearly a 50/50 split, a great achievement that Ajit Varghese, our APAC CEO, has been behind.
We have outstanding female regional leaders, Anita Munro (head of trading APAC), Monica Bhatia (digital director APAC) and Rose Huskey (chief client officer APAC), and some fearless female country or office leaders - Dujduan Sornmani, Maxus Thailand, Katy Websdell & Karly Fragiacomo, Maxus Australia; Sanchayeeta Verma, Maxus South India; and Nicky Huang, Maxus Taiwan.
Change starts with knowing the facts, so we audited our own company through our Mind the Gap initiative. Despite being a young, agile organization with an overall gender split of 52 percent female to 46 percent male, only 27 percent of our uppermost roles (CEO/MD/board) are filled by women. Closing the pay gap is also a worthy cause—with our numbers currently at 4 percent in favour of men, globally. While this is an improvement from the global average of 23 percent, it’s not perfect. But with data we know where we sit and we can measure ongoing change.
Challenge the practical barriers
Provision and financial support that empowers choice is a critical move. Businesses need to both allow women to return to work soon after giving birth, if they choose, and introduce fair paternity benefits to challenge the assumption that women are default primary caregivers.
We’re seeing an uptake of enhanced paternity leave in our UK office, and it’s great to hear new fathers telling us how important this opportunity is to them and their families. Our overall goal is equality, and that means supporting men too.
With practical support in place, the next steps to equality are nurturing the up-and-coming tier of female leaders and focusing on challenging self-limiting mindsets. After all, internal barriers can be just as limiting as logistical obstacles.
Nurture tomorrow’s leaders
Women also need to encourage each other in our journey up the corporate ladder—from making senior women more visible, to inclusive panel talks, to corporate social media outreach.
At Maxus, we launched Walk the Talk, an intensive coaching experience for senior women. It took 200 senior staff out of their job for two days, giving them true mental space to focus. The goal was to to arm women with the confidence to embrace their ambitions. We also wanted to create a real cultural shift, with those who attended taking their lessons back to each Maxus office.
I’m happy to report that eight months on we’ve seen 22 senior promotions, with some colleagues designing entirely new roles for themselves. One of these brilliant, bold moves came from Jen Smith—who proposed her new role as global creative director. Here in Asia, Anita Munro stepped up as our next head of trading, traditionally a very male-dominated role.
Actions speak louder than words
Where traditional, passive diversity training fails, taking an active approach in creating our own agents of change is working. Across all markets Maxus women feel more confident, clearer about their ambitions, and better connected. In APAC, our Walk the Talkers now feel more empowered to lead change in equality.
There’s a ripple effect too, with WPP holding its own Walk the Talk event this April for senior female leaders based in Europe. Several WPP clients are also considering heading their own event—an exciting momentum boost.
We know with certainty that gender diversity is profitable. Our goal now is to inspire change at the C-suite level. We are all privileged to be working in this industry—let’s take bold, decisive action, and make our desired change a reality.
|Lindsay Pattison is the Worldwide Chief Executive at Maxus|