As we headed into 2020, the constant thread of conversation running through our industry was around diversity. Diversity in gender, in race, in disability and in lifestyle. How could we achieve greater variety and inclusivity across all levels of our industry, but particularly in those all important leadership roles that have such an impact on all subsequent hires?
The events of the past year have, of course, shifted our collective focus onto survival as businesses have had to pivot to adapt not only their outward-facing behaviour but also their internal processes.
The endless hard work done from all corners of advertising - be in brands, agencies, media owners or industry bodies - in the lead up to this difficult year will have set firm foundations for long term change, but we must all be on our guard to go into 2021 with a renewed sense of purpose towards achieving the parity that is so badly needed.
At Adnami, we have recently appointed Steph Miller as our first UK MD as we begin to expand our team into this key market, while in Copenhagen, in January we are joined by Mie Borg as our international partnership manager. These are two brilliant hires who we expect to make positive change within our business.
And I think this is noteworthy not just because it represents a refreshing change, but more so because we are a tech company. Tech has long been a male-dominated industry for reasons I’m sure a psychologist could explain, but to my mind it’s high time we came together as a sector to make sure 2021 is the year we balance out the gender inequality that has become such a millstone round our neck.
However, we are far from perfect. While our recent hires represent positive change for us as a business, we are perhaps guilty of the same undoing as many others working in technology. Women still make up just 30% of our workforce - something we’re actively trying to change going forward but know we have some way to go.
It doesn’t take the aforementioned psychologist to tell us that a business that brings a range of opinions, approaches, attitudes and business styles to the table will flourish.
Too many companies are paying lip service to the issue but without action, we will be no further on this time next year than we are today.
The benefits of having at least an equal balance of women in leadership positions are indisputable. Research shows women make up 75% of purchasing decisions and are more likely of the two genders to spend time on the most popular apps and websites. To have people at the top of your business who think like three-quarters of the people you’re directly or indirectly trying to reach makes sense to me.
We also know from this study by WPP that companies with women on their boards outperform those who are more dominated by men across all aspects of the business, with a 42% higher return in sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity.
So why are we not further on with this issue that we were this time last year? I believe a major part of the issue is the recruitment process. People naturally fall back on tried and tested methods of recruitment and we already know that is ineffective in positively impacting the numbers.
Unconscious bias is still a very real problem - if you don’t believe it exists take a moment to look through your LinkedIn network and see how many people look just like you. Blind recruitment can address this, when done properly, and more companies should be looking to push the boundaries of their recruitment process to find methods that will broaden the diversity of applicants.
Internal promotion can also effect change, with promising female employees identified early in their career and then nurtured through the company, with training or mentoring that could develop their skill offered readily. If you know you have promising female talent lower down the ranks but do not work with them to capitalise on their skills, be sure that someone else will.
However, I’m sure we are not alone in seeing far fewer female applications than male for our advertised roles. While we must, of course, question whether we are doing everything we can to make these positions attractive to women, I also believe this is part of a wider problem at play, one of perception among the wider industry. It is for this reason that it is imperative that we keep these important conversations going into 2021 and beyond.
After all, 2020 has shown us that change is possible when it is forced upon us. Now we need to have the gumption to be proactive when it comes to bringing about real change. Not because we’re being forced to but because we know it’s the best thing for our business and for our industry.
Female tech experts should be excited about the future, not nervous about jobs only being available in a handful of broad-minded, forward thinking companies. Tomorrow’s female CTOs and COOs are out there ready to make a positive difference to our industry: the responsibility lies with us all to open the door to them.
Simon is the CEO of Adnami