A call to action on gender diversity

This Tuesday's global celebration of women and call for gender equality is a stark reminder that affirmative action is required to make genuine changes to the marketing and communications industries.

International Women’s Day has been observed for over 100 years and provides an annual opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and to call for the acceleration of gender parity.

There are many women – and men – who denounce the whole concept of the day, which takes place on March 8 each year. This is usually because they either believe these topics shouldn’t be confined to one date on the calendar, or they say it is "sexist" because men don’t have a day of their own (even if they actually do).

I’m not going to delve too deeply into those arguments. Suffice to say the day has gone from strength to strength. It raises important issues to a wide audience, engages thousands of women in an atmosphere of positivity and celebration, and many global corporations support it and organize activities around it.

It also seems like a good time to revisit a blog I wrote in January, which revolved around targets introduced in the UK by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising – the UK’s equivalent to the 4A’s – in partnership with PRWeek’s sister title Campaign, to benchmark the composition of the ad workforce and set targets on gender and ethnic diversity that should be met by 2020.

Omnicom chose this year’s International Women’s Day on Tuesday to announce that almost 80% of its UK management teams, including its PR agencies, comprise 40% women or more, which is already ahead of the IPA's 2020 goal.

The numbers show that 79% of Omnicom agencies have management teams consisting of 40% or more women in 2016, compared to 63% in 2015; 44% of agencies saw an increase of female representation in their management teams since last year; and of the agencies with boards, 36% saw an increase of female representation since last year.

The first rule of implementing any campaign is to make sure that the targets set are achievable, although as I said in January I must admit when I first saw them laid out I thought they were ambitious and that it was extremely bold for the IPA’s members to set themselves hard benchmarks like this.

But Omnicom has certainly thrown down a gauntlet here and I look forward to seeing similar announcements from the other big marketing services holding companies, on ethnic diversity as well as gender diversity.

It particularly struck me as timely this week, when we saw the CEO of one of the world’s most famous advertising agencies accused of incredible sexism and racism - which he vehemently denies by the way and which could be subject to a court case - and a female reporter trying to ask a question at a Donald Trump rally was allegedly forcibly "yanked out of the way" by the property magnate’s campaign manager.

Whatever the final outcomes of these two incidents, it is a horribly familiar snapshot and speaks to a continuing febrile atmosphere around gender relations that is unbecoming of modern 21st century organizations.

It seems incomprehensible in this day and age that people aren’t adopting more respectful and, ultimately, productive approaches to interacting with each other in the workplace – or anywhere else for that matter.

It also makes me wonder again if it is time for the US PR, advertising, media, and digital industries to bite the bullet and consider going down the same hard target route as the IPA in the UK. We’re talking about the same holding companies in the main, so if it can be done in one region, why not in another that has very similar norms and values?

PRWeek would certainly be open to convening the debate and to consider being involved in a similar way that our sister brand Campaign has been in the UK. We are doing our own bit in April by launching the inaugural PRWeek Hall of Femme, which celebrates achievement by women in the PR industry

This issue is too important to be confined to one day of the year - what say you out there in the PR industry?

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