Gender equality is top of the agenda for many companies, but it’s still early days for most, in terms of implementing strategies for improvement. On the back of research by Campaign Asia-Pacific and Kantar, the discussion focused on topics including adapting corporate culture, skills development and how to retain valuable team members.
Joanna Flint, country director of Google Singapore, said the company had “made strides” in acknowledging the existence of gender bias. But that was not enough to stop good talent from leaving, she noted.
Séverine Charbon, global chief talent officer of Publicis Media, said the only way for improvements to start was for the leader of a company to set an example.
“I am shocked to see the gaps in mindsets and behaviour,” she said, but added that — perhaps counter-intuitively — Asia seemed to be ahead of many other regions in supporting female professionals. While there were good structures in place, leaders still needed to commit to a “trackable, scaleable plan” for any meaningful steps forward, she said. “You can’t have different pockets of initiatives. Unless you have a consistent agenda and track it with leaders accountable to change it, it won’t happen.”
Flint later noted that “psychologically safe teams are the highest performing teams”, meaning that leaders cannot concentrate on results alone. “It’s a question of how you create a great place for people to work,” she said. “We have totally undervalued the criticality of great managers.”
You can’t force it
Supporting senior women in an organisation is essential, Ruth Stubbs, global president of iProspect, said. This creates role models, which in turn attracts more female talent into the business.
What inspires that support in the first place? From some perspectives, it’s not even really about gender. Gerry Boyle, CEO of Publicis Media, said it was simply about “doing the right thing to have the right talent base to deliver for clients”.
Charbon said part of the current problem stemmed from a failure to properly identify high potential talent for future leadership, regardless of gender, and this needed to become more rigorous.
Working towards gender parity is a starting point. “Once it seeps into the organisation, there’ll be wider inclusivity,” said Nick Waters, Asia-Pacific CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network.
Unconscious bias — that is, assumptions about gender roles and their effect on decision-making — was a major theme throughout Campaign360. “Unconscious-bias training is almost the key that starts to unlock everything else,” he said. “Once you’ve got awareness of the issue you can start to drive meaningful change.”
"Sometimes successful women are like tyrants. We need to build a culture of empathy."
“You should always start a relationship with trust, until it is abused.”
“Investing in someone ahead of the curve could be a risk … but it’s more effective than letting them go.”
“Teams that are psychologically safe are the highest performing teams.”
“Unconscious-bias training is the key that starts to unlock everything else.”
“A lot of this discussion is about right and wrong, not male and female.”
Numbers are good storytellers
At the moment, much of the discussion around gender equality is subjective. The industry needs to use data to make it as objective as possible, said Leigh Terry, regional CEO of IPG Mediabrands.
Cheuk Chiang, regional CEO of Omnicom Media Group, agreed with Stubbs’ earlier point that accountability was essential for progress. Because many leaders were not charged with raising gender equality, they had not paid attention to the numbers reflecting female leadership in their companies, Chiang said. “That first basic step is very important and holds the organisation accountable for how to grow talent and move forward. At a basic level, we’re not getting it right.”
He added that concrete numbers showing the impact of a more equal workforce on performance would also be a strong motivator. “If we had a quantifiable gauge, it would change the perspective for a lot of leaders,” he said. “We’re KPI-ed against growth and delivering fiscally for the organisation. But if we understood [through numbers] that our organisations are not as diverse as they should be, and so not as successful as they could be, wouldn’t that be a fantastic stat to hold us accountable?”
Boyle said it was easy to overcomplicate matters. “We should just look at the cost of female talent lost by our business and the cost of replacing it. You don’t need a grander reason … as to why this needs to be addressed.”
In terms of hiring, gender quotas don’t work, noted Vishnu Mohan, regional CEO of Havas Media. But the group agreed that setting targets for a more balanced workforce could be effective.
Flexibility builds sustainability
Working remotely is becoming a fact of life, and one that can make it possible for women to continue to work while raising a family. But acceptance of a flexible structure varies widely. Charbon noted that while working from home may be perfectly normal in the US, in France it signalled a lack of commitment.
In the end, it came down to trusting employees. “We need to instill a sense of responsibility and ownership … that you can do as well at home or on the road as in the office. You need to have autonomy to make decisions and I think that’s a significant cultural shift we need to make.”