Opinion

Why everyday should be International Women’s Day: Taking the discussion to C-suite level

5 min read

20 March 2019

International Women's Day may have been and gone. But questions around how to achieve workplace equality shouldn't only be discussed once a year. Although progress has been made, and laws about to be passed to solidify flexible working rights for employees with young children, within my male-dominated industry, the pay gap between the genders remains vast. As a female MD, it's up to me, and those like me to take the gender discussion up to C-Suite and other senior levels.

This year’s International Women’s Day was met with the usual celebrations of womankind and commemorated the inspiring role of women around the world, (those gallant few who are securing women’s rights and building more equal societies).

But among the celebrations, it remains a day to flip the lens on ourselves and as an industry, and reassess what equality in business means to different people. The conversation is no doubt evolving. International Women’s Day has been a good opportunity to highlight issues like the gender pay gap. It’s no coincidence, for example, that some businesses now have a legal obligation to report on it annually.

However, it’s the tireless work of campaigners and businesses alike which ensures these issues reach our halls of power. It’s why days like International Women’s Day are so important. Make enough noise and leaders have no choice but to listen.

Flexible working is not dissimilar. The EU’s Work-Life Directive will enshrine flexible working into law while guaranteeing two months’ paid leave for parents with children under the age of eight. These are all moves in the right direction, but we now need to let the conversation transgress to the next level.

I’m unusually lucky. My brother always saw me as an equal, and never spoke down to me as my elder. I’m managing director of a wonderful creative ad agency, TWELVE. I have the joy of dropping my kids (boys) off at school before I go to a job I love every day. My husband is a stay-at-home dad, and does an immense job and supports me in everything that I do.

For me, and perhaps for many other women like me, times are changing. But what about everyone else?

When I think of International Women’s Day, I’m reminded of a poster I recently saw. It pictured a brother and sister side-by-side. The girl was taller, and probably older, with her arms crossed. She had a proud, determined look on her face. Whereas the boy had a cheeky little smile and his hands on his hips. It read: “Prepare your daughter for working life – give her less pocket money than your son.” Underneath the image, it continued to state that after 30 years of equal pay law, women’s earnings were still substantially less than men’s.

The issue with the male-dominated advertising industry, (which I work in)

This poster clearly doesn’t speak the truth to me and my situation. But in my male-dominated industry, advertising, for many it does. Adland’s biggest name, WPP, has a pay gap of 25.5% . One of WPP’s agencies, JWT, is even worse, with a woeful 44.7 %. This has significant implications for business and its supply chains, not least for agencies’ clients.

The key to successful marketing and advertising is creating work that not just mirrors society but is a step ahead of where we are today. How can my sector, or any other with a gender imbalance like it, expect to deliver for people if we don’t get our own houses in order?

What worries me equally is how we are to get a more balanced gender ratio in c-suite roles. From top to bottom, there is a diverse pool of creatives ready to take the step up, yet women get overlooked — and disproportionately so. There is no question we’re far from the days of Don Draper in Mad Men, but we still need to grasp how we can generate gender parity in the workplace, and what this should look like.

Questions have been answered but many more go unanswered. Despite this, I remain sanguine for the future. My boys, even at their young age, would wince at the challenges women before them had to face in reaching something as so simple as equal pay in the workplace.

This is inspiring, and my boys and their female peers will be the leaders of tomorrow who bring about the change we seek today. These things take time, but we all must play our part in creating a more equal future. We must start by celebrating those who drive change this International Women’s Day: the brothers, the husbands, the friends, the bosses, and the kids.