Leigh Chandler of Vault49 on why the design industry needs equality to succeed.
In a storm of headlines hitting the news recently, there has been a noticeable increase in big brands which are stepping up to address inequality: from Amazon announcing its Amplify program to boost the number of women working in tech and innovation, to PayPal heralding its #BalanceforBetter campaign which included a short film (below) where women discuss gender equality. But it’s not just brands which need to be leading the way in this area.
Initiatives such as the 3% Movement and SheSays are helping to highlight the issue of gender inequality, and agencies such as DDB and R/GA have set up programs to remove obstacles preventing women from advancing.
Then there’s the 50/50 initiative, which is encouraging award schemes to ensure that work is judged by gender-diverse panels. For the first time the Art Directors Club and the Clios recently mandated an equal number of male and female jurors.
It’s all having an impact. We’ve already seen the percentage of female creative directors climb from 3% in 2013 to 11% today, and it’s now not rare to find an agency taking the issue seriously and acting on it.
When I started out if you’d told me I’d be able to work at an agency where equality influences every hire and every promotion, where there are transparent salary brackets for each job title, where everyone has performance appraisals, mentorship schemes, and a clear progression path, and where an open and honest working culture empowers everyone to speak up and ask for what they deserve, I’d have been sceptical at best.
But the truth is that more and more agencies are recognising that this is not only the right thing to do, it is the commercially savvy thing to do.
The case for equality
I see first-hand every day how diversity creates better work by compensating for our unconscious biases. All-male design teams look at a brief very differently to a mixed gender team – just as an all-white design team would look at a brief very differently to an ethnically diverse one.
Diverse teams ensure that we approach briefs from many angles – and produce designs that successfully appeal to a global audience. Working in diverse groups is also more fun. It fosters a more open and collaborative working environment and makes for more interesting discussions and debates.
Viewed from that perspective, for creative agencies, gender equality ought to be a company performance indicator, tracked as closely as profit and loss.
Seize the opportunity
With more and more creative agencies realising this, there’s a host of opportunities opening up for women in our sector.
I urge female creatives to find mentors. My mentor has been an invaluable guide and sounding-board throughout my career. (And of course their gender isn’t important – my mentor is a man and he’s the greatest feminist I’ve ever met.)
Female creatives should push their creativity and take risks. Don’t be afraid to fail. Believe in what you’ve done and explain why you think it’s right. If you’ve missed the mark, let it go. Not all clients are going to share your vision, but whatever happens, never show them work that is boring, or expected.
Look for opportunities in even the briefs that at first seem boring, sometimes the most unglamorous projects are the ones that really shine, because you made an opportunity to be creative from nothing. Get yourself a reputation for always delivering fresh ideas and working hard to deliver them. Don’t feel that you must be the most outspoken person to get noticed, but don’t be a wallflower either.
Work hard, obviously, but make sure you have a life outside work that inspires you and opens your mind. Go to work every day with a positive attitude and find the confidence to know and believe your true worth.
From 11% to 50%
If female creatives – young and not so young – do all this the 11% will tick up quickly. Given that the same number of male and female graduates enter the workforce each year there’s plenty of scope for growth here. Why can’t we make it 50% by 2025?
Major corporations have a vital role to play in making that happen. HP set a great example when it gave its vendors an ultimatum: fix the pay gap, or we’ll stop doing business with you.
For every corporate taking steps to address gender inequality, there are dozens of agencies also seizing the initiative. They’re the ones who recognise that diversity breeds creativity, and that creativity is everything in this game. They’re the successful agencies of tomorrow.
Leigh Chandler is partner and creative director at Vault49.