On 23 September, the third and final day of Spikes Asia 2016, Jane Lin-Baden, CEO, Isobar Asia Pacific; Tamara Ingram, CEO, J. Walter Thompson; and Philip Brett, President TBWA\ Asia Pacific discussed gender diversity moderated by Atifa Silk, brand director, Campaign Asia-Pacific.
Silk set the tone for the discussion pointing out that advertising, like so many other industries, is fighting the gender gap. Recent controversies in advertising haven't helped the industry, she said, adding that all six holding companies having male CEOs doesn't help.
The discussion began with Silk asking Ingram, one of the few female global CEOs in advertising, for her views on the subject.
Ingram said, "It's disappointing that we (women) don't represent the industry. We have to make enormous strides with policies and pipelines to make it work."
Brett said, "We see a strong force of women in the agency. What women require is seeing a woman at the top. That will get more women wanting to come in to the industry."
Lin observed, "Perceptions of certain personality traits and people believing women can't do it need to change."
Touching on work culture, Brett added, "Our business doesn't work normal business hours. Forty per cent of the women don't end up working in advertising because of pressures of families. We need to allow them to have balanced lives."
JWT's Ingram said that there is pressure accumulating that's pushing for women to be elevated to higher positions. She explained, "There's enormous pressure for change. It's a good time to promote women because of this pressure. But, there is a still a lot to do though."
Shifting the focus from gender to the broader canvas of diversity, she added, "Divergence thinking is important. With gender, also diverse groups should be spoken about. We need people from different roots and cultures as they enhance an idea."
Brett concurred, "Our industry places itself in the centre of culture, so we need to represent it too. We need to be diverse or we will become irrelevant."
The discussion shifted to leadership qualities women should have.
"It's about having a clear vision and a sense of purpose. Then the female trait of listening is important too. Specially, listening to diverse cultures becomes important," said Ingram.
Brett said, "Good leadership is good leadership. We have to create an environment where people with ambition can reach and lead from the top. There is plenty of talent around, but we need to create that environment that promotes ambition."
Questioning the fewer senior women creative directors, the moderator pointed out that women who leave advertising don't necessarily give up working and asked about how they could be retained.
Ingram said, "It's easy to talk about drop-offs, but we need to take risks and promote people. We need to enable people to flourish."
Lin pointed to a prevalent stereotype that prevents women from being seen as ambitious. She explained, "There's a culture problem for women to take up challenges because they are not perceived to be ambitious."
Countering the notion, Ingram said, "A research said that 60 per cent of the women are more ambitious than men in Asia. A woman with a kid, and the number goes even higher."
Brett added, "We have to engage women. We clients and agencies have to start talking about what makes businesses better. We have to be part of the same group."
Ingram's suggestion to counter drop-offs was flexibility: "We need to allow women to be flexible. You should allow them to work from home, or (on) mobile devices and things like that."
Lin shared a personal experience. "I discussed with my daughter before I got my CEO role about the impact it would have on her. It's important for me to spend my journey with her, but at the same time I don't want to compromise work," she revealed.
She added, "Maternity leave cannot be a punishment. You need to be allowing women to come back. Our agency in India has extended maternity leave. We must remember that without motherhood, none of us would be here."
Ingram pointed towards the political space: "Fifty per cent of the cabinet ministers in Canada are women. Eighty-eight per cent of the women claim they are inspired by role models."
On the current state of the industry, Brett said, "We need to attract talent beyond our pool. It's not just the gender issue, but the cultural issue. We need to have a business that is truly a representative of the industry."
Lin surmised, "Intervention is required. In some roles, we see women holding more positions than men. Even that needs to change. We need a balance for diversity."