With a major sexual harassment case brewing and amidst longstanding complaints about the advertising industry’s alleged sexism, a number of top execs met this week to tackle the issue on the #Diversity panel, where they discussed ideas for increasing the number of female execs in the ad business. The execs, representing some of Madison Avenue’s biggest companies, agreed that action was urgent and said social media could play a major role in the outreach effort.
“I don’t think anyone is going to deny that we need more women in the top ranks of this industry, but it’s easier said than done,” said Griffith Park III, CEO of Omni, eliciting nods from the other panelists. By the same token Park believes that social media and online recruiting can be a game changer, “For example if we clarified in the online job descriptions that we also hire women.”
Other panelists suggested reaching out early to young women in college through more professional mentoring and internships, but Jim Berkshire, COO at WBT Venice Worldwide, said even earlier intervention is needed: “The problem is a lot of college students, including young women, are studying kind of ‘wishy-washy’ subjects like English that really aren’t going to prepare you for the extremely rigorous, analytical world of advertising.”
Instead, Berkshire went on, out reach should target high schools and even younger audiences: “You’ve got to them earlier, we need to be reaching out with these messages about a career in the ad business when they’re 12, 13, 14 years old. I want these girls watching 'Mad Men' in middle school.”
Looking ahead, panelists agreed that having a full supply of female execs will definitely provide a competitive edge to agencies in the future, requiring a very aggressive recruiting strategy. John Sanduck, co-founder and chief creative officer at Yellow, said success will go to the company that “approaches this like war or football and works to systematically, strategically conquest these female candidates.”
One interesting idea, presented by MDMA World Sidebush CEO Jim Hillman, sparked conversation because it would serve the additional purpose of aligning the ad industry with a socially progressive cause: “I know this industry hasn’t traditionally shown enough support to LGBT individuals in top spots, and clearly right now there’s a lot of conversation around transgender issues in the mainstream. I’d have to ask around, but who says we can’t start flipping some of those male C suites to female right away?”
Hillman conceded there might not be enough numbers to even up the gender balance, but added that in light of the highly competitive nature of the ad industry, with sufficient incentives some male executives might be open to the idea of gender reassignment to help the cause of diversity. “What better way to show millennials how inclusive we are? Heck, it would make a great reality TV show.”
Cass Andrews, CEO of Royal.GHB Spot/Sanders and the only woman on the eleven-person panel, noted in an aside: “This whole situation is too weird to be true.”
Editor's Note: Please keep in mind what day this was posted: April 1, people!