I've always been an admirer of the Suffragette's movement. i remember first learning about Emily Pankhurst via Mary Poppins and seeing Mrs. Banks wearing her Votes for Women sash.
To me even then, it seemed incomprehensible that women would not have access to the same rights as men - to be equal to men in every aspect of their life. Now today, over 100 years later in business we see that we have elements of life that are still not equal, that we need to change just like accessing the vote.
Women still experience conscious and unconscious barriers that not only inhibit their progress but can damage profitability. So, with diversity and inclusion trending right now, whilst it’s great it’s so top of mind, I’m concerned that businesses are paying it lip service even though it’s at their financial detriment to do so.
The evidence is clear - recent findings from McKinsey (2018, 2015) shows that gender diverse businesses are 35 per cent more likely to have favourable financial returns than the industry norm. What’s more, in the UK they found gender diversity on the senior executive team was the biggest driver of performance uplift. For every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity, EBIT rose by 3.5 per cent. Gender equality in the C-Suite can impact business profitability. Wherever women work though when they’re respected for the person they are, and the value they add, this has been proven to improve morale and engagement, driving productivity, and financial health for the business.
So, whilst there’s still some way to go for women, and a clear financial reason to do so, in my industry, the marketing and communications industry we need to make a change more than ever. Whilst women make up more than half of junior ad agency staff, this soon drops to 30 per cent in leadership roles, with only 12 per cent of females making it to creative director. Whilst on the brand side, it's no better with only seven per cent of FTSE 100 companies led by a female CEO.
So, it makes business and common sense to change however it hasn’t really got the momentum behind it. A bit of Mary Poppinsʼ magic would be nice but to be realistic we need to take a leaf out of the suffragettes’ book. To collectively come together, women and men to nudge and lead change from the ground up through organisations like Creative Equals, WACL, SheSays, DAWN and Bloom. Industry focused, issue focused, but also fun.
When I’m not working as Campaign Manager at Virgin, (just as an aside an awesome company to work for) my side hustle is volunteering as Head of Marketing for Bloom. Bloom as mentioned above is a professional network of mid-level marketing and comms women on a mission to help every woman in the industry achieve their potential. We want to support and empower women, so we can future proof their careers, and inspire positive change in the industry, right now. And do so having some fun.
Bloom’s programmes have been designed to reach women throughout their career, with youth outreach workshops for teens considering marketing as a career, mentoring for newcomers to the industry, networking for mid-level women and industry events open to all. BloomFest is our one-day festival featuring the real voices of women in our industry and an incubator for ideas that will shape a better future for us. #NakedTruths was conceived at last year’s event, where attendees anonymously posted their industry secrets of sexual harassment and discrimination in a confessions booth. The confessions were raw and uncomfortable and alongside the #MeToo movement helped propel this to the top of the industry’s agenda.
However if you can’t make it to BloomFest in 2018 you can do a lot now (both women and men) to empower women to succeed, and inspire positive, profitable change in the industry, right now:
1. Share your salary. Both women and men (Credit this to Harriet Minter. How can we start to bridge the gender pay gap if we don’t know what others are on?
2. Women and men can ‘call it out’ - whether it’s talking over women in a meeting or a derogatory comment at a social down the pub.
3. Find male ambassadors or if a male, out yourself as a female ambassador. Utilise men that understand the benefits of gender equality, so they can spread the word.
For me, equality is a no brainer on any level, with a clear business and people case for it in the workplace. You don’t however need to wait for your company to instigate new policies and practises, you can start today with small steps, that collectively make a difference. Think Mary Poppins and channel your inner Mrs. Banks.
This article first appeared on Virgin.com on 28 September 2018.