“It’s almost embarrassing to see what this industry was like many years ago,” said Michael Roth, chairman & CEO, IPG. “When you think about how powerful the messaging of our industry is in terms of communicating to the consumers, it’s important to us to be representative of the world instead of just a bunch of white males dictating the kind of work we do and how we service clients.”
Roth was speaking at 'The Silk Prologue', IPG's first-ever IPG Women’s Leadership Network (WLN) Breakfast in Asia Pacific. The title represents the program’s focus on intersectionality as a series of various strands, coming together to form, in this instance, a silk thread. The breakfast was attended by over 200 clients, colleagues, media and industry partners.
IPG is well regarded as a champion of diversity in the workplace. According to Roth, the company started doubling down on diversity and inclusivity 14 years ago. The twin values are now firmly part of the company’s DNA. Today, more than ever, the company believes that diversity of thought is critical to their success. Eager to close the gender gap, one third IPG’s Board of Directors are female.
"The reason our company is outperforming others in our sector is because we embrace diversity and inclusivity," says Roth. "Companies that do embrace diversity perform better in terms of meeting the needs of clients and shareholder returns – you can do all the analysis and you can see just how important diversity truly is."
There is a consensus throughout the industry that greater diversity leads to increased creativity and better ideas. "We need equal amounts of men and women in our teams because we fill in each other’s needs as you’re not always creating work for your own gender or own type of persona," says Sheena Jeng, CCO, McCann Worldgroup China. "The more ideas we have in the room, the more creative the work will be and the better it will cater to your target audience."
But it's not only creativity and ideation that is boosted by greater diversity. Many studies suggest that having more diversity and women on boards is essentially good for a company’s bottom line. A recent McKinsey report found that Asia Pacific could add $4.5 trillion to their collective GDP annually by 2025 if they did more to advance women’s equality. The study found that China could increase GDP by 13% ($2.6 trillion). Meanwhile, India could grow their GDP by as much as 18% ($770 billion) by advancing women's equality.
But with a 60:40 men to women ratio in advertising and communications agencies worldwide, there's still room for improvement.
"I don’t think there is any shortage of women raising their hands wanting to take on leadership roles," says Katy Laciny, Head of Marketing - Asia, Oceania & Africa at Nestlé Purina Petcare. "I think there’s a lot of opportunities for companies to step up and for women and men in existing leadership positions to open the doors."
To open more doors, Laciny says that her company is specifically ensuring any conversations regarding talent involve discussing what opportunities there are for women when it comes to leadership. They have also been establishing formal mentoring and sponsorship programmes. "We are having more female sponsorships to get women in the door and into leadership positions," says Laciny. "We have to support women from lower level positions in order for them to be able to reach the top."
Elsewhere, this year Spikes Asia announced the launch of its first 'See It Be It' career acceleration programme designed to help women in creative roles achieve their full potential in the profession through a series of executive training, mentoring and unique networking opportunities. "There needs be support coming from below before we can start seeing more women at the top," says 'See It Be It' alumni Lizi Hamer, regional creative director, Octagon. Hamer leads SheSays Singapore, a community built to support more women into the creative and digital industries.
Besides greater representation for women in leadership roles, the gender pay gap remains an ongoing problem, particularly in the financial sector where the difference is in the double digits. Geraldine Yip, regional head of sales practice and content management, Asia Pacific, HSBC, believes that the responsibility to close the gap lies with existing managers like herself.
"Certainly, as a manager myself, when I put out an offer there is no difference between what a man or woman makes," says Yip. "We look at what the role is worth and whoever gets the job, man or woman, you get the same pay. Awareness is the first step and there is progress to be made."
Viksita Menon, CMO of L'Oréal Singapore, also believes that awareness and greater transparency are key to closing the pay gap. "Companies need to have more open conversations. If there is a query or question raised about it then our company is extremely transparent about it," she says. "I'm pleased to say that there is not such a gap in the space that I work in. When people are on equal footing pay wise it leads to a bit of confidence and it becomes more about producing great work, which is how it should be."
But it’s not just about the gender pay gap, it’s about more women in leadership roles, on boards, and basically getting fair access to the same type of opportunities that men do. To achieve this, positive discrimination, in favour of women, has been introduced. But is it right to force it in order to get women into leadership positions and on boards?
"The numbers and statistics are so not in our favour as women that I do believe that some positive discrimination is necessary," says Yip. "But I hope in the next generation we don’t have to rely on positive discrimination. I hope by then we will have given women the right opportunities and the right experiences so no one will say that we gave them the job just because they are female – I hope that we get to that point."
There is hope for the future, one shaped by equal opportunities. "Women need to empower each other and collectively take that step forward," says Menon. " I strongly feel the future is fabulous, fierce and female and I think there is a sisterhood we can all relate to based on the common values that I think women have."
And Roth and IPG, as part of the United Nations Unstereotype Alliance, are also advocating for a future shaped by equal opportunities and one that further eradicates harmful gender-based stereotypes in all media and advertising content. "It’s so important that we represent individuals in the work that we do properly," says Roth. "How individuals are represented in that work shapes the way young people view women, diverse individuals and people with disabilities. It’s incumbent upon us to make sure that the work we do is consistent with the values that we are articulating. The power of what we do can change society."