Getting it Right When it Comes to Women in Creative Leadership Roles

This week, IPG was a sponsor of the 3% Conference, whose goal is to increase the number of women creative directors in advertising. We are involved because women are consumers of media and marketing, and are often the key decision-makers in terms of how families' money is spent. Women represent purchasing power of over $5 trillion in the US and about $20 trillion globally. Yet they are woefully under-represented in creative leadership roles in our business.

It's a fact that businesses that have greater numbers of women in top management perform better than those that don't. According to recent studies, Fortune 500 companies that had at least three women on their boards saw return on invested capital increase by at least 66%; return on sales increase by at least 42%; and average return on equity increase by at least 53%.

At IPG, we’ve made this issue a priority. Our progress is evident in the gender diversity we've achieved on our board, where 40% of our directors are women. Catalyst argues that having women directors at a company leads to having more women leaders within its ranks – and we’ve seen that at IPG. But the change in the gender makeup of a company’s leadership doesn’t just trickle down because of a board’s composition. 

To drive systemic change and real progress, three additional factors need to be in place. First, you need development programs, which equip women with the support, resources and networks to raise their profiles, and plan a path to achieve their ambitions. This means male creative leaders need to actively engage in women's leadership networks. Not opt out of the process, as has often been the case.

Second, these men (along with women leaders) have to be fully invested in the success of women creative directors. There's always been lots of talk about mentorship, but research shows that sponsors are required for real change, i.e., individuals who will put their personal credibility on the line to back women. Which means supporting their creative ideas and actively putting them forward for opportunities and promotions. 

How to achieve this is the third part of the equation. What it requires is putting your money on the line. It is a given that the CEO and senior team must champion gender diversity and set goals for the number of senior women. But it's also imperative to tie the compensation of senior leaders directly to their results against diversity-related objectives. And we are the only major company in our sector to do so.

In recent years, IPG's performance has been outstanding, compared to our peers and the market. And creatively, we've received more industry honors across disciplines than at any other time in our history. A lot went into these successes – but the policies, strategies and decisions made by a diverse board, with a broad range of experience, were major contributing factors.

So why is this still an issue? The answers are multi-layered and complex. Old prejudices still exist and have become institutionalized. So a change requires consistent and focused effort to learn new ways of working. But it’s our job to fight against these biases and accepted practices and ensure that our companies are inclusive and diverse. It requires a willingness to hold leaders accountable for change. Because building diverse perspectives into our work, driven by a creative talent pool that is representative of our consumer audience isn't just the right thing to do – it’s a mandate for success.


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