Jane’s Diary: does the ad industry really want to upgrade the status and prospects of women?

Marlene Hore (left), the Canadian grand dame of advertising, said that when she was executive creative director at JWT in Canada in the 1980s, she thought: “I’ve opened a door for women – lots will follow. But they haven’t.”

Depressingly, in 2013, senior female creatives are still a rarity and no one really knows why. Even female senior creatives struggle to explain it. At Cannes this year, Elspeth Lynn, the executive creative director at M&C Saatchi, said: “We’re getting the influx of women into the industry. But something is happening on the journey.” Dave Trott has tried to pin it on the boisterous “playground” atmosphere of a creative department, but arguably that only scratches the surface.

Elspeth Lynn puts her rise to the top down to sheer determination, noting: “I don’t think the industry is stopping women.” But it isn’t exactly encouraging them either. Cilla Snowball, a major proponent of female empowerment in the industry, recently noted that many agencies fail to motivate their female staff. She suggests introducing careers advice for women as well as equipping them with skills to launch their own businesses.

But is it all the fault of others? Would it not help if women started supporting each other in the workplace and stopped the ‘whispering behind the arras’ snide personal sniping about a female colleague’s: size, relationship status, age, hair etc. If we trivialize each other’s attributes at work, we just reduce our chances of being seen as a great leader or part of a team. Men keep their personal ‘joshing’ for the pub, I suggest we do the same.

While there were no solutions offered when the Labour party chipped into the debate last month, there were at least a few words of encouragement. In his address to the ad industry last month, Ed Miliband, said that, a hundred years on from women winning the right to vote, no female should be “quietly waiting in the wings” for anything. And, when it comes to waiting in the wings, the opposition leader knows what he’s talking about.

Advertising’s portrayal of women was another bugbear for Miliband. It’s not a new debate. Apart from the occasional Dove ad (left), women in the ad break tend to look like either downtrodden housewives or models.

But for all the current talk, will anything ever change?


  1. Women are succeeding many areas of advertising: the largest creative agency group (AMV) and the largest media agency (Mediacom) are run by women. But the creative department is a whole other problem. WACL has tried to unpick this, and the IPA, and there have been some insightful studies like the one Debbie Klein.

    One theory is that, although as many women as men enter art colleges, fewer female creatives try to enter advertising. They go into publishing or broadcasting instead, partly because their lecturers tell them they won’t like the culture. Then there’s the systems of placements. Fewer women are prepared to work for nothing and sleep on a mate’s floor. But the most convincing theory is that the prevailing creative sensibility is male so that women’s work is not highly regarded, recognised or awarded. Overwhelmingly male juries award their male mates and the system is perpetuated.

    But there is hope. Emer Stamp is part of a very successful duo and it’s hard not to believe that a female view of life has not imbued the John Lewis work.

    By the way, I don’t see Dove’s latest work as helping women get away from the stereotypes, however charming and well-meaning it is. The take-out for me is “isn’t it great that you are more attractive than you thought”.

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