Published October 8th, 2015
by Swanchita Haze

We’ve been reading a new blog series published in advertising and marketing industry toilet magazine and rag, The Drum, called “Token Man”, where “a series of prominent women from across the marketing industry interview male figures about their views on gender imbalance and diversity in the industry”.

Now, we are working in an industry that assembled a crack team of white people to discuss ethnic minority issues in agencies at Advertising Week (side note – someone shake that graphic designer’s hand). Advertising Week is pretty much the biggest worldwide gathering of marketers, and there were dozens – if not hundreds – of people with direct experience attending and presenting at other panels. Either this particular panel decided that being black in an agency wasn’t really the kind of qualification that lets you sit under a sign saying ‘here are all the black people’, or shit really is that bad.

Token man might not be as overt as the caucasian council of problem solvers, but these interviews are two sides of the same coin. And more evidences that agencies have a chronic blind spot when it comes to diversity.

Take Allan Blair of Tribal – he hates chauvinists, and can definitely give us some insight because he’s seen “a lot of women come into the industry quite young but leave it quite quickly too because it’s not for them.” So why are they leaving?

“Agency culture can be pretty macho”

“I’ve worked with some old school sexist pigs in my time”

“A lot of incredibly sexist comments, whether it’s things like how short a girl’s skirt is or whatever – you see a lot of that”

I’ve heard enough.

The rest of the interview is made up of promotion of Tribal’s apprenticeship scheme and assurances that they are definitely supportive of working mothers. Nothing about their other female employees though. As for opening up access for people with disabilities, hiring more young people will solve that. Wait, what?

In summary, “there’s definitely a lack of female candidates coming through. I don’t know what the solution is”. I learned a lot there.

Darren Rubins, meanwhile, is “a firm believer in gender equality and the role women and feminine values have to play in the workplace.” Now, I haven’t read The Lady Instruction Manual in quite some time so I’m not sure what these feminine values are, but it’s nice to have you on board, Darren! Darren will also “go on record to say that I think women are just as valuable to this industry than men” which is some seriously brave stuff to be saying a mere 45 years after the publication of The Female Eunuch.

Perhaps we’re occasionally too cynical and horrible in the digital industry, but to give this initiative some praise, it’s at least attempting to have the conversation. It’s doing this by having the women in the conversation request a thorough mansplaining of the issues, but it’s a start.

Agencies are supposed to be full of “expert” marketers. Hopefully marketers who remember the first thing they learned about the discipline: Understand your customer. Telling your customer what they want doesn’t work. Promoting the way you meet their needs does. And you don’t understand anyone’s needs by insisting “There is nothing wrong. I don’t understand why diversity is so poor in agencies. It will be fine because young people.”

I actually have the solution to the diversity problem by the way. And I’m going to share it with you.

If you want to make agencies more inclusive, and know why women, people with disabilities, religious and ethnic minority people are struggling in the industry – fucking ask them.

Maybe there’s a lack of hireable, talented women because all of the ones with any sanity got fed up dealing with lecherous agency relics pawing at them while taking home bigger payslips? Maybe young women don’t stick around because they realise there are other, fairer industries where their male colleagues and seniors don’t need a series in a magazine to point out that women should be treated equally in the workplace. Maybe they just got tired of colleagues making assumptions about their life choices, and assuming that “woman in the workplace” = “working mother”.

As a woman, I’d much rather read about how “a series of prominent women from across the marketing industry” do their jobs. How do they develop strategies, execute great campaigns and leverage client relationships? What are their creative inspirations and how do they run their businesses? Instead some men tell me that they’ve noticed it’s a bit sexist, and they’re jolly well going to maybe, possibly, think about how they should try and do something about that.

As for race, disability, LGBT and other diversity and discrimination issues; I’m not qualified to talk about it. So I won’t. But I look forward to reading about how some prominent white men plan to tackle it in next month’s issue of The Drum.

Note: This post originally appeared on the Habanero Digital blog meaning certain parts are probably weirdly self referential or talk about ongoing feuds that probably exist almost exclusively in the mind of the author.

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by Swanchita Haze

The true identity of Swanchita is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. We receive her blog submissions written by hand using ink on parchment, delivered by a small Dickensian orphan boy.

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