Olivia Parker
Feb 15, 2018

Mandate for Change on gender bias sparking wider action on diversity

Agency leaders say their work on equality for women in the workplace is driving more discussions and initiatives about diversity and inclusion in APAC.

Group M's 'Walk the Talk' day, held last year in Singapore, will run again in April 2018, in Bali
Group M's 'Walk the Talk' day, held last year in Singapore, will run again in April 2018, in Bali

Eleven months have now passed since six agency representatives signed Campaign Asia-Pacific’s ‘Mandate for Change’ on gender equality at the Campaign360 conference in Hong Kong.

The mandate was drawn up to address the fact that just 31 percent of companies had, as of March 2017, put strategies in place to address gender inequalities in the marketing and advertising landscape in Asia. The initiative aimed to champion women in the workplace and encourage the introduction of real policies to effect change.

Our recap in November showed significant progress is being made, with 67% of agencies saying they plan to form or have formed a network of women leaders and 83% developing a mentoring practice in their APAC organisation. Half of the agencies surveyed had introduced unconscious bias training and two thirds had conducted their own research into their organisation regarding gender diversity.

In their latest quarterly updates to Campaign Asia-Pacific, agency leaders report continuing advances on many fronts in the battle for gender equality. In many cases, they say, their efforts have ended up sparking bigger conversations about diversity in general.

Dentsu has founded a committee of volunteers to shape future inclusion initiatives across APAC, for example, and Group M will launch an ‘All Means All’ project in APAC later this year, with gender one of five pillars of focus designed to improve diversity. Group M’s APAC gender split currently stands at 50-50 at managerial level and below but still leans in favour of male employees higher up the organisation, says the agency. “This is one of the key metrics we will be looking at over the next three to five years as we make sure our women are given more opportunities to find the right roles higher up in our organization.”

IProspect's Joanna Catalano at a 'Female Foundry' event that aims to empower female entrepreneurs

Agencies are also starting to introduce new methods of tracking the effectiveness of their current policies. IPG Mediabrands plans to run their own study into inclusivity across 13 APAC countries in 2018 in a bid to address region-specific issues. “Existing policy and research tends to originate from global bodies based out of the US or UK, and the true applicability to our APAC region is quite limited,” says IPG. “We are also aware that there is no one size fits all solution across Asia, every market experiences different stress points, social stigmas, barriers and challenges. Our first port of call has to be truly understanding and acknowledging what those existing barriers are so that we can custom tailor bespoke local market action plans.”

Other efforts on gender equality centre around the development of mentoring programmes or career advancement projects in Asia. Havas, for example, which notes a male-female split at executive level of 48% to 52%, is looking to bring its Femmes Forward Leadership Programme, currently piloting in London and soon to be established in New York, to APAC this year. Key senior female hires in recent months include Valerie Madon as Chief Creative Officer for Southeast Asia and Jacqui Lim, who continues as CEO of Havas Singapore while taking on the title Head of Business Development for Havas Asia Pacific.

Omnicom, meanwhile, is five months in to testing a new mentoring programme in Singapore. According to executives: “It is an opt-in scheme, but all director level and above employees have been encouraged to be mentors.  We will be asking for formal feedback after six months, but verbatim comments received to date have been hugely positive from both sides, with people feeling more inspired, supported and connected to the organisation.” Omnicom plans to launch this scheme in other markets soon.

Unconscious bias training has been another key area of focus. IPG Mediabrands finished delivering training to 100% of local and regional management in APAC in Q4 2017, while Group M plans to provide workshops for their managers and senior leaders this year. Publicis reports a 50% completion rate of their own online training programme in APAC, which has now been integrated into all induction and on-boarding schemes globally. The agency also reports that they are looking to launch an internal pay audit, currently running in the UK and France, at Publicis Groupe level.

Attempts to root out unconscious bias are being reflected in agencies’ commitments to hiring, too, with Omnicom saying they have produced a “crib sheet” detailing suitable questions to ask prospective candidates to accompany their rollout of training workshops across the region.

Flexible working practices, which many feel are a lynchpin of gender equality, are on agency to-do lists - but there is perhaps still some distance to go before these become widespread. According to Campaign Asia-Pacific’s ‘Overwork in Adland’ report, published last month, 39% of employers still do not offer flexible working - and just 29% offer flexibility on both time and location.

At present, Dentsu reports that they are employing a policy of ‘Agile Working’ in Singapore, while Publicis has in the last month carried out a ‘best practice’ audit of global flexible work initiatives with a view to sharing and scaling the best. In Australia, for example, Publicis Media’s Spark Foundry brand started the Spark Opportunity Programme, which offers flexible hours and mobile technology to mothers to help them back into the workplace. “This has resulted in more senior appointments at director level and a higher retention rate of women. Now, 70% of Spark’s Leadership team are women,” says agency leadership.

IPG Mediabrands, meanwhile, has concentrated on seeking out “individual pain points in local markets” and addressing these accordingly. “In the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia for example commuting is a real pain point for our people, many of whom may have to travel 2 hours or more,” says the agency. “In those markets we offer the flexibility to commute outside of rush hours and also offer staff a wifi enabled shuttle service to the office.”

This year's Women Leading Change conference, hosted by Campaign Asia-Pacific, will take place on 31 May in Singapore. For ticket and speaker enquiries, email eleanor.hawkins@haymarket.asia. For sponsorship opportunities, email kenny.holroyd@haymarket.asia.

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