Andrew Genskow
Nov 2, 2017

Mandate for Change check-in: What agencies are doing on gender equality

It’s easy to sing your own praises when it comes to a topic as significant as gender equity, but actions speak louder than words. What have agency endeavours amounted to over the last few months?

Mandate for Change check-in: What agencies are doing on gender equality

On March 22 this year, six agency representatives signed the Mandate for Change, making the pledge to improve gender equality within their organisations.

Carried out in tandem with the Campaign360 conference, the charter took into account the fact that only 31 percent of companies in the marketing sector had a plan in place to develop gender equality. In response, the initiative sought to champion the advancement of women across the marketing industry, and make real, tangible change beyond the discourse.

The mandate detailed four distinct goals, with signees committing to at least one.

  • Plan for action: Develop an on-the-ground plan for promoting and raising awareness of gender equality among both men and women.
  • Flexible work arrangements: To provide training to help managers and directors understand how flexible work arrangements can be incorporated into agency life. Seek to develop new ways of working that enable them to perform duties from a variety of locations and situations.
  • Development opportunities: Senior executives in local offices to personally mentor and coach someone/a successor of the opposite sex.
  • Pay Parity: Conduct pay audit within your organisation to determine and understand the scale and differentiation in pay.


Fostering development opportunities

Executed prior to the mandate’s signing, Campaign and Kantar TNS’s joint research efforts revealed that although 89 percent of women in the industry were motivated to lead, only 9 percent were currently in a leadership position in their workplace. Meanwhile, 24 percent of men with similar aspirations were in leadership positions.

Support networks for women pursuing — or currently in — management positions could change this trend, encouraging female talent to shatter the glass ceiling that so often hinders new leaders in reaching their full potential. As Joanna Catalano, executive sponsor for diversity and inclusion at Dentsu, points out, aspirations can often fade if women don’t feel supported in striving for or even starting a dialogue on their career goals.

While speaking with a female Dentsu associate in the Philippines, Catalano found the employee was eager to make a career move, but “scared to have the conversation” on the subject. “It was interesting to hear about some of the fears that she was having. But, she’s certainly ready for her next move, and I was glad that she raised the question. Part of changing this is putting out the right message and creating the right environment."

In response to these needs, 67 percent of the mandate’s participants are planning to form or have formed a network of women leaders. And for newcomers and future leaders, 83 percent have developed a mentoring practice within their APAC organisation.

Severine Charbon, global chief talent officer at Publicis, said of her group’s efforts, “Mentoring is a simple idea, but when it’s implemented in the right way it’s very efficient. In every local market our leadership team has been tasked to mentor our rising star leaders.”

200 young leaders are currently part of the programme, with the initiative fast expanding across Publicis’ global network. Charbon goes on, “We also have a women’s mentoring programme emerging in ten markets now. It started in France and has expanded across Europe, the US, Singapore, China and other locales."

In the same vein, Angela Ryan, chief human resources and talent officer at GroupM Asia-Pacific, detailed the internal event Walk the Talk, pioneered in 2017 and helping 20 women across the organisation “identify areas in their working and personal lives they would work on, find purpose and build stronger relationships within the company.” The next event in the series is planned for Q1 2018 and will host 80 women. In addition to these efforts, GroupM's global media agency, Maxus, partnered with Campaign Asia-Pacific in last year's inaugural Women Leading Change Awards, and the Diversity Hub.

Kevin Zhang, director of human resources at Havas, also spoke on overall goals for supporting female leaders, “One, we’d like to see more women promoted into senior management roles within our organisations. Two, we want women to be mentored by leaders in our organisation.” On current accomplishments, “Through these conversations we’ve already seen people promoted, because of the network they’ve built.”

Zarka Khan-Iltaf, head of people and development, Asia-Pacific, at IPG Mediabrands, spoke of her organisation's outlook and success in the mentorship arena, "In all of our local markets, leadership is defined as modelling behaviour of an initiative. It can't just be something you say, it must be something you do." Leading by example has bode well for IPG in maintaining gender balance across locales, with Khan citing 65 percent female leadership across the APAC region, and 45 percent across local market CEOs.

Reinventing the workplace

Working arrangements are almost equally relevant across genders, with 23 percent of men and 27 percent of women in Campaign and Kantar TNS’s research claiming that their companies should take more steps to arrange flexible scheduling. That being said, it’s encouraging to note every agency signing the Mandate for Change has reported having or introducing flexible working arrangements.

Towards this end, Ryan emphasised the importance of “giving our talent the ability to manage their own workload and schedules”, and in turn giving them the freedom to work in ways that maximise their time and output. GroupM’s APAC hub in Singapore has also piloted an “activity-based working set up,” that introduced open seating arrangements around the office.

When it comes to pay parity endeavours are also promising, with 83 percent of signees planning or having already conducted a pay audit across their APAC organisation, and in an industry where only 48 percent of women feel fairly compensated for their efforts, there’s a dire need for action. It will be worthwhile to reevaluate women’s satisfaction on this front as time progresses, to see if pay audits are a reasonable answer to a problem that has long plagued the workplace.

Breaking old habits

The issue of unconscious bias is another matter agencies sought to tackle. While 50 percent have reported offering or conducting unconscious bias training for employees, as Samantha Webb, APAC talent and human resources director at Omnicom Media Group, pointed out, addressing the problem from a recruitment standpoint is a nuanced affair, “From my side, looking at the recruitment process, there’s a fine line between making sure you’re finding people who fit the organisation's culture and add value, and becoming too cliquey.”

Nick Waters, CEO Asia-Pacific at Dentsu, has introduced gender balance across every step of the recruitment process to combat bias, “First, we have a mixed interview panel, and make sure prospective employees are seen by both men and women. I think that’s an improvement.” He went on to detail candidate lists that are, especially at the senior level, held to a high standard of impartiality.

The Mandate for Change participants, from left to right: Gerry Boyle, CEO, Publicis Media Asia-Pacific; Cheuk Chiang, CEO Asia-Pacific, Omnicom Media Group; Vishnu Mohan, CEO, Havas Media Asia-Pacific; Angela Ryan, chief human resources and talent officer, GroupM Asia-Pacific; Leigh Terry, Asia-Pacific CEO, IPG Mediabrands; Nick Waters, CEO, Asia-Pacific, Dentsu Aegis Network; Atifa Silk, brand director, Campaign Asia-Pacific

Beyond recruitment, unconscious bias can be pervasive throughout an entire organisation if it goes unchecked. Acknowledging the problem, workshops on the subject have been introduced at a number of agencies. "100 percent of our regional leaders went through unconscious bias training, and that was phase one," said Zhan-Iltaf, "phase two will be training all our staff, which will likely run into Q1 of next year."

Charbon sums up Publicis’ efforts, “At the end of the day it’s all about education. Creating awareness and educating managers and recruiters on what we mean by 'creating diversity’, and the specific steps they need to take when they recruit, assess, promote, and develop talent.”

Awareness is a keyword here. When it comes to gender equality, making company-wide cultural shifts in a new direction is a multi-faceted process, but simply being aware of inequality’s existence is the first step. With that in mind, 67 percent of the Mandate for Change’s participants have conducted their own research into their organization regarding gender diversity.

Webb has taken part in a research initiative to better deduce where gender imbalance takes shape, “What we’ve started doing is plotting, over our eleven markets, trends across our organisation.”

“As we evolve, that’s the nature of our business” she concludes, “Asking ourselves 'Are we appealing to women?’ This is very much setting the benchmark for us, in terms of how we look at women and our understanding of the cycles throughout the organisation.”

Zhang found that Havas' gender ratio leaned towards women, but still saw room for improvement, “how do we continue to promote women into leadership positions? We have a few: CEOs in India, Taiwan, and many MD-level leaders as well. But, at the end of the day, we want to see more women in these positions.”

Dentsu’s newly rebranded employee survey, ‘Check In’, revealed much about how the organisation’s female population thinks and feels, juxtaposed against the male experience. “We’ve had an opportunity over the years to address concerns that are specific to the female population, and listen to their thoughts, ideas and feedback” said Waters, “One point of encouragement is that any areas that might have had any broad spread between male and female points of view have married quite markedly.”

It’s easy to connect the dots here. Education is a powerful weapon, and leads to changes at the policy level. If the industry as a whole wants to set a course for change, this is a good map to follow.

Cheuk Chiang, CEO Asia-Pacific at Omnicom Media Group, explains “While we’ve always recognised the strength in diversity and taken bold steps to break from convention, this mandate reinforces our beliefs and allows us to benchmark our efforts, ensuring that we’re heading in the right direction in our quest to build the workforce of the future."

Get in touch to get involved with the Mandate for Change or share your own stories regarding gender equality in the workplace, and for the latest on gender diversity, visit our Diversity Hub.

Campaign Asia

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