Cannes Highlights the Need to Champion Women

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As advertising executives reconvene at Cannes for the first time in two years, it will be in the shadow of some grim headlines. Not so much about the pandemic, more about gender diversity.

As advertising executives reconvene at Cannes for the first time in two years, it will be in the shadow of some grim headlines. Not so much about the pandemic, more about gender diversity.

Last summer, the All In Report, compiled by the UK’s leading industry and client-side bodies, found a gender pay gap of 24%. The accompanying graphs showed a familiar story of women accounting for more than two in three roles in low and medium management, before dropping off to near parity in senior roles. When it came to C-Suite positions, that proportion plummets to just 39%.

Similarly, She Runs It, the US organization promoting gender diversity in the industry, found that the proportion of executive positions in Advertising Media and Tech businesses had dropped from 30% to 29% in 2019. However, since the pandemic there is even more alarming news. The organization’s 2021 #Inclusive100 report found representation in the industry has dropped during the lockdown years from 50% to 46%. This is more notable than in other industries which have, on average, seen a drop from 50% to 49%.

Coming together to help women

The upshot of the research either side of the Atlantic is the pipeline of staff entering the industry and occupying low and medium level roles is not the problem. The issue is mentoring and promoting women into the senior roles that men continue to dominate.

As Sweta Patel, VP of growth, marketing and merchandising at Roku says, there is much that needs to be done at company level. However, as individuals, the onus is now also on senior women in marketing to help one another to succeed.

"I’m thrilled to sit down with my fellow women marketeers to discuss the future of helping to diversify the marketing field,” she says. 

“As women marketing leaders, we have the power to make a real impact on how we can serve women in this industry that resonates and is genuine and meaningful.”

ABInBev is using its position to help promote women in sports. “As the world’s leading brewer, it means creating greater opportunities for all of our stakeholders,” says Julie Yufe, Head of Expansion Markets, Europe at ABInBev. “We believe our company and brands can be a catalyst for good and we’re proud of our progress, particularly in support of women in sport.” 

In the U.S., Michelob ULTRA has committed $100 million over the next five years to increase visibility for women's sports. Through the Busch Light Accelerate Her program, the company is redirecting marketing spend to help support women drivers in NASCAR with access to more track time, more media exposure and more training.  In Brazil, the company’s local brand Guaraná Antarctica took a bold step and turned the product into an advertising placement. “We called for other companies to join us in support of women, making 35 million cans of Guaraná Antarctica available for brands that, in exchange for that visibility, invested money in Women's Soccer,” explains Yufe.

Soyoung Kang, chief marketing officer at eos Products, believes there is a role for brands and agencies to help women succeed. All employers, she believes, can play a major role in supporting women in advertising and marketing through realizing the landscape has changed since the pandemic. Now, more than ever, the companies that are going to attract the brightest female executives are going to be those who embrace flexibility. 

While there is clearly much work organizations and individual executives can do to support and champion women in advertising and marketing, there is even more that needs to be done for women of color. Research was already showing these women are disadvantaged in the workplace and now the latest figures are suggesting things have not improved since the pandemic.

The Women in the Workplace 2021 study, from  McKinsey, found that women of color only occupy 4% of C-Suite positions, a proportion that has remained stagnant for the preceding three years. Its findings further showed that as job level goes up in seniority, from entry level to C-Suite, women of color representation drops off by 75%.

It is against this backdrop that Carole Gardner Diarra, global vice president of marketing at UGG, believes companies must follow gender diversity initiatives that include “cultural intelligence” to ensure women of color feel welcomed and valued in the industry. Without this, she fears, it will be hard to attract back those who have left the industry during the pandemic.

“Research indicates that many women of color, especially in tech, do not want to return to the office post Covid lockdown and this is because they often face environments in which they feel isolated or excluded,” she says.

“They see peers receiving more stretch assignments and feedback for improvements, while they feel overly questioned, with doubt cast around their work. Brands and companies should absolutely be considering flexibility in bringing back women but also cultural intelligence as a new skill that should be developed that is just as important as emotional intelligence. The expectations are higher than ever and younger generations of women are demanding fairness and cultural thoughtfulness as well.”

With research showing little progress, despite the substantial challenges ahead in attracting women back into the industry after lockdown, the representation of women, and particularly women of color, is set to be a major talking point at Cannes. As the creative advertising industry meets face-to-face again for the first time in two years, the question of how companies and individuals can champion the role of women is sure to resonate throughout the week of discussions.

“While the past two years have certainly been challenging, they’ve also taught us how to balance work lives with personal lives, primary jobs with side hustles,” says Diarra.

“Organizations that continue to embrace flexibility will win in the battle for talent, and in particular for talented women. I’m looking forward to hearing from other leaders how they’re approaching this unique opportunity to create more paths for women in marketing.”

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