5 ways to get more women into creative leadership

The industry can do more to create gender balance in the boardroom, says Smyle’s Emma Gardner.

Emma Gardner is head of creative at Smyle.

As a senior female in the events industry, I’ve often wondered where all the women go.

Don’t get me wrong, the events industry is full of talented women. But at the leadership level, the table is skewed towards male decision-makers. It’s far more unusual to find a female creative leader than a male one.

Research from McCann Bristol tells us that while many design graduates are female (61%), women are being ‘lost’ in the hiring process, with 50% of qualified female talent not making it to creative departments of advertising agencies. Reasons include unconscious bias at the hiring stage and a lack of female role models.

More worrying is the misconception that women lack confidence in excelling at perceived masculine traits, such as assertiveness, resilience and self-promotion. There’s a view that women strive to be ‘good’ rather than to ‘kick up dust’ at boardroom level.

As head of creative at Smyle, I can say that a lack of confidence has never held me back. However, upon having a child, peer and industry experience incited a fear that I might not be taken seriously if I was viewed as a ‘mum’.

Inevitably as a parent, there are times when you do have to leave early, along with lots of unpredictability when it comes to children, and I feared this would go as a black mark against my career progression.

I am happy to say that Smyle understands that, if anything, becoming a parent is empowering and can make working parents more focused as they seek to be fully present in all aspects of their lives.

So, what can we do to help grow female creative leadership?

1. Deal with certain behaviours in the workplace

A key concern at senior level is how different men and women are at communicating with one another. For example, studies including this one by Forbes show that senior men are often guilty of interrupting female colleagues.

All workplaces should encourage a culture where women feel empowered to speak up and be heard.

2. Focus on proactively bringing women to the table

As the majority of agency decision makers are male, men must become proactive allies to help their female counterparts break into boardrooms. Male leaders should ask themselves regularly, “How do I remove my bias from decisions that affect the gender balance of our company’s leaders?”

3. Educate your teams with training and policies

Agency training and policies can help to bring more women into positions of leadership. For example, you can educate with unconscious bias training, and start initiatives such as removing names from CVs.

4. Embrace inclusive working practices

Make sure your company is ready to embrace female talent by stopping practices such as non-inclusive networking events like meetings on golf courses that don’t include women. Look at day-to-day processes like mixing up teams and getting different people working together.

5. Inspire future female leaders

It’s important to work with female talent at all levels, in universities and colleges, and even within agencies themselves. Women in leadership need to tell their stories and be role models. You can’t be what you cant see! It’s time female leaders got out there and let their voices be heard.

Ultimately, the more diverse we are, the better the creative output will be. And that’s got to be positive for businesses and employees alike.

This article was written by Emma Gardner at Smyle. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of C&IT Magazine.

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