Empowering the Women of Advertising – Today

Today is the day of AAF Northeast Arkansas’ panel discussion on Empowering the Women of Advertising. I’m proud to be a participant on their panel so I have a vested interest in the event’s success.

Increasing diverse participation in advertising and marketing is a business issue, and we need everyone involved. To that end, AAF Northeast Arkansas is today raising awareness about ways to involve more men in creating inclusive work environments and how women can claim their strength within the advertising realm. 

By coincidence, a British publication interviewed several key women in advertising about the current status of their gender within their industry. The timing of this report is appropriate with the timing of the Arkansas AAF panel today.

Think about the people who make the buying decisions for their households. It’s extremely likely that the majority of them are women. And they’re probably more likely to be older than younger. Now think about agency creative departments that you know of – do those teams reflect the people who are likely most efficient to market to? Probably not.

In a recent interview with LBB, a British publication, Sue Higgs, joint ECD at dentsuMB in the UK, had this advice: “I find that it’s someone else’s problem, ageism”. The stage in life Sue’s at now is a huge asset to her as a creative leader. “The great thing about being in your mid-life or wherever we are is that it’s quite liberating,” she said. “It’s quite liberating, I think, to find your strength, and your power, and your voice.”

And that liberated voice is exactly what creatives need to flourish. One thing Sue said she’s learned from her experience is that: “As you get older you learn that people lose their jobs for a trillion reasons and none of them is actually speaking your mind. There’s nothing more fulfilling to say to a young female than: ‘Just tell them. Just say it, your biggest weapon is your point of view. That’s why you’re here. Please use it.’

Besides, a recent study from the BBC showed that people have two key creative times in their lives, one in their 20s and one in their 50s. It must be a huge oversight of the industry to only be tapping into one of those pools.

But the fact of the matter is that despite these tremendous powers, women in creative departments are not staying in the industry long enough for agencies to truly benefit from their experience and unique perspectives as they mature.

“The impact of this is there are not enough women over 40 in roles within departments like creative,” says Anna Dalziel, founder of 40 Over Forty and SVP director of marketing communications for Momentum Worldwide. “There are a number of reasons for this, but I think culture really plays a huge role. Whether it is conscious or unconscious ageism, small and big actions every day in the office, over Teams or in social environments, are stopping the industry from retaining older talent.”

As Sue said, older women’s potential to offer different viewpoints, share lived experiences and contribute towards agencies’ creative thinking and culture is invaluable. “Like any form of diversity, having varied teams working on business makes the work more relevant and more relatable,” says Anna. “After all, we represent brands who often influence culture and society. Now, more than ever it is important that people producing the work for these businesses also represent the culture and society they are creating creative ideas for.”

Ali Hanan, founder and chief executive of Creative Equals, underlines this point with a number. “I’ll start with a killer stat: by 2030, one in six people will be over 65,” she says. “Who is marketing to them? Right now, no one.” 

“So why aren’t agencies waking up?” Clearly, she says, because most agencies employ so few, older women particularly at the creative table. “Who makes the work shapes the work, so having a handful for the entire sector at the creative table is a collective blindspot for the whole industry.” 

The Advertising Association’s recent ‘All In’ survey showed only 4% respondents were 55-64 plus and the gender split is less than half (this is versus 17% of the UK’s working population). When it comes to creative directors who are aged 50 and above, Ali says: “I’m counting them on my fingers. That is, if they’re ‘out’ – or feel they can say their age without someone having to comment on whether they ‘look it’ – or not. I’m 53 and proud.”  

More ‘killer facts’ from Ali: Women over 50 have been dubbed the ‘Super Consumers’ by Forbes, holding $15 trillion in spending power. Older women control 95% of their household purchasing decisions and 80% of luxury travel purchases for partners, parents and grown children.

“We are intersectional: multi-ethnic, LBTQIA+, of many faiths and are more likely to be disabled at a rate of 20%,” she says. “Don’t call us ‘young at heart’ or ‘cougars’. We are not ‘grandmotherly’. We are who we are: we are not ‘active for our age’ as this implies the rest of us are sitting around or bed-bound. We have powerful minds, bodies and wallets. And opinions too.” 

On the representation side of things, this is also so rarely reflected. “When we are portrayed, we’re rarely seen in the way we truly are: powerful, multi-faceted, trend-loving, fashion-forward and our voices are unheard, unseen and unrepresented,” says Ali. “We are healthy, wealthy and full of ambition. We are not just active, but brand activists. We are trying new brands at a rate of 82%.”

As Sue told LBB last month, “there’s so much targeted at younger generations and they’re not the ones with the money and the buying power. They’re not the ones I think we need to work hard as an industry to talk to. “ 

“We need to start to have more open, uncomfortable conversations in the industry to unearth the scale of the challenge we are up against with ageism,” says Anna, adding that more agencies should be open about their numbers, ultimately making them more accountable.

Ali points to more potential saviors in the form of industry programs that can help agencies rectify this mistake. “Solving this problem is easy,” says Ali. “Hire older women. Give them an agency, power and, most importantly, a brief. If there was one job the sector had to do to #BreakTheBias this IWD 2022, this is it.”

Empowering women in advertising is a continual process. Empowering older women – and men – in advertising is a constant hurdle that must be overcome. There’s too much talent out there that is wasted.

Live Long and Prosper, Ukraine!

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