David Blecken
Mar 28, 2017

Gender equality is just one step on the road to diversity

Reflections on Campaign’s first conference dedicated to the topic of equal opportunities for women in marketing and media.

An audience-participation moment at Campaign360.
An audience-participation moment at Campaign360.

Gender parity is a topic that has loomed large in the global marketing industry for the past year—and rightly so. Accusations of sexual harassment at advertising agencies and at major companies in related industries such as technology have at last made equal opportunities for women a key consideration for many leaders.

Against this backdrop, on 22 March in Hong Kong Campaign Asia-Pacific hosted Campaign360, its first ever event (arguably long overdue) to look at the factors responsible for inequality in the marketing industry and how to move forward.

Recurrent in the conversations throughout the day was the realization that ‘unconscious bias’ holds women back: both men and women are responsible for casting each other in traditional roles, which often means women do not attain top positions in an organization.

Other common themes included the need for more statistical evidence highlighting the gender gap and the business benefits of a balanced workforce; more relatable role models (while people like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg might be impressive, their lives are often too far removed from those who are looking up to them to hold any real meaning); more empathy (one female delegate pointed out that female bosses sometimes over-compensate for their insecurity and become “tyrants”); and more flexible working hours and remote working options.

While it seems clear that flexibility stands to make raising a family and having a career a real possibility rather than a dream, many companies are struggling to adapt. (Bizarrely, just last week, IBM—a pioneer of remote working as far back as the 1980s—announced that its large US marketing team will now have to report for duty at the office.) Trust is a big issue that companies have to come to terms with.

Readers will note the absence of the word ‘diversity’ up to this point. That is because we believe it has been widely used to mislabel what is actually ‘gender equality’.

Achieving diversity is something much bigger than bringing more women into a company or appointing more female leaders. Diversity means not hiring people who are all the same. It means understanding that being open to people from unfamiliar ethnic, cultural and professional backgrounds, people with different sexual preferences, people with disabilities, and people of advanced age can make a company stronger. 

For an industry that is supposed to be creative, this one is still frustratingly reluctant to work with people who are ‘different’. If it really wants to keep up with society, it needs to be prepared to reflect it. Gender equality is a pressing need that we hope will spur a much broader culture of acceptance.

David Blecken is executive editor, Campaign Japan


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