HeyHuman’s Shnoosee Bailey: why gender equality is the key to upping adland’s game

Words are just string holding truths, half-truths and falsities together.

Recently, Ogilvy pledged to appoint twenty senior creative women, globally, by 2020.

It’s a compelling headline. But at the moment, it’s just string.

For a global creative network. twenty senior creative women hardly seems like reaching for the stars.

It’ll be an incremental victory, of course. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a goal-hanger hogging all the glory, an understudy swindling the lead and reaping all the benefits.

At HeyHuman, we have an all-female creative leadership team. I never really considered it ‘all-female’ until someone pointed it out.

Because it’s not been done to hit quotas, or because we’re #woke.

It’s been assembled this way because we were the best people for the job and it makes business sense.

We want to have a different creative approach from other agencies, because we are different.

And women offer a different perspective to men. Not saying it’s better or worse – just different. Whether by nature or nurture, women tend to be less hierarchical than men. Less alpha. In an environment with more women, you decrease the chance of hierarchy existing in a traditional format. Of course, some sort of structure has to exist, or no work would ever get done. When there’s a less hierarchical system, creativity’s given more room to breathe.

A system built on trust and empowerment is the way forward – never fear. Different, talented people should be encouraged to collide, to debate, to create great work through collaboration rather than dictatorship. History, pay grade or job title shouldn’t stop challenging, thoughtful conversations from happening. That’s what makes the work better.

Otherwise, you’re left with the ‘traditional’ set-up: a workplace top-heavy with men, no room for flexibility. When you’ve got new blood joining the ranks, that system will impact them. Women without senior female role models may see it as imposing, keeping their heads down, while men might view it as the gauntlet being thrown down. Seeing male creative leaders get successful results with an alpha approach will encourage juniors to mimic that. They see the behaviour as the means to an end, rather than the application, the work, the blood, sweat and tears.

And on the whole, our industry has been slow to trust women in senior roles. The existence of initiatives like Free the Bid, which aims to give female directors equal opportunity to bid on commercial jobs, shows that we’re still miles away from gender parity. It’s a brilliant, noble initiative, giving women a leg-up where they might not have otherwise. But the fact that it even has to exist speaks volumes.

For our industry to progress, the solution is dead simple. More agencies need to take more risks. And that in itself sounds silly, doesn’t it? Taking a risk by hiring more women, the people who make up half the earth’s population.

But it’s not happening – at least not on a widespread scale. We need a louder female creative voice – in surround sound, no less.

We’re so close, and all agencies need to do is say yes. Give the job to the best-suited candidate. Some will be men. Some will be women. We need both, it’s about having equal numbers. The work will be more vibrant, more creative and more representative of a wider demographic as a result.

Shnoosee Bailey is managing partner and executive creative director at HeyHuman.

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