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Features / International Women's Day

Girls On Top: Grey London’s joint-CCO Caroline Pay talks female leadership in ad land

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Caroline Pay

By all accounts, I shouldn’t really be here. A woman from Croydon in her 40s, with a child, running an agency alongside another woman from Leicester, in her 50s? You couldn’t write it. By the normal rules of advertising engagement, we really are the odd couple.

Yet here I stand alongside the supremely talented Vicki Maguire, at Grey London. The best job I’ve ever had. I love it. Who wouldn’t? And that’s my point. I know a lot of women who would/should/could have been in a position similar to mine. So where are they? Why are Vicki and I one of the few women only creative leadership teams in our industry? Our wonderful, liberal, exciting, dynamic industry that’s supposed to champion thinking beyond the usual norms. Supposed to…

Even in a creative environment which prides itself on challenging the status quo, women are still not making it to senior roles in anywhere near the numbers we should be. The statistics speak for themselves. Just 12% of creative directors in London are women. I’ll leave that figure out there for just a moment.

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We’re proper mates with all of London’s women chief creative officers, and I can confirm you wouldn’t need to order that many black cabs for us all to fit into.

“So what if there aren’t enough women in senior creative jobs?”, some may say. After punching them in the face, I’d point them towards the following piece of information: 91% of women don’t feel like advertising represents them. That’s right: nine in every 10 women don’t feel like we’re talking to them properly. I wonder why? Imagine the amazing work we’d all be making for our clients if we approached things different and engaged properly with women. What if more woman wrote, sold, bought and shot more of the work that is primarily aimed at us?

What’s the problem and where are we going so wrong? It’s not just advertising: across all industries there’s a problem with hugely talented women moving only so far in their seniority before their careers stop.

That’s going to take time to change. But there are things we can do right now. Three things, actually.

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Dad’s also the Word

Society makes it harder for women to get to the top. It’s an old cliché, but behind many of our most powerful and successful men there are women who help facilitate life outside of the office, making it simpler for their partners to stay late and in general prioritise work when needed. Even if they do have a partner, it’s unusual for a C-Suite woman to have that level of support without having to pay an arm and a leg for it.

It’s a small thing, but every obstacle that makes working life harder for women with families could potentially be the thing that makes them wonder, “Why am I doing this when I can probably work for myself, on my own terms?”

Changing the entrenched view point that women have to make all the career sacrifices when they have a family will take time. But there’s real change that agencies can start now, and it’s this which demonstrates the fundamental problem in advertising: we must offer equal parental leave and encourage take up.

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Stop Hiring Yourself

People hiring people who look, think, sound and drink like them has a seriously damaging impact on the future of the industry. We need different role models to show that our industry can nurture, celebrate and develop all sorts of different leaders into senior creative jobs.

Vicki and I have spent the last year determined to challenge advertising norms, motivated by our position as women leaders. We believe there are future stars in every corner of our agency. We can’t bear that ‘business as usual’ way of working and believe that everyone needs the same love and attention. Nurturing and developing talent is huge for us. Grey is an open place: we talk to all our teams, all the time. We know their business at work and at home. We have a plan for each and every one of them. We have their backs. Who wants to look around and see an emerging generation that looks exactly like their predecessors.

Girls On Top

Make sure you have women role models at every level in the agency and that there’s room for many more. Give them what they need to promote and find the best female talent out there and get them involved with hiring. The industry has a problem with unconscious bias and we need to stop that being an obstacle for women. Agencies also need to focus their efforts. Here at Grey London we conducted our own staff census to focus on where to make our workforce way more diverse. With that info we can point our attention in the right places.

Over the last year Vicki and I have been building confidence and showing young women how they can take on the industry. It’s a huge passion of ours. We want to help the next generation of creatives get their voices heard. Tapping into that market isn’t just morally the right thing to do, it’s a business necessity. If we don’t change there’s only one future for advertising: irrelevance.

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