Gender equality has been a hot topic for a long time in the advertising industry. It's often discussed, but seldom solved for in a meaningful way. Tara Walpert Levy, Google's VP for agency and media solutions, is hoping to make an impact.
Ahead of Google's "Women's Night Up" event in partnership with the Ad Council this week, Levy chatted with Ad Age about what progress she's seeing in the industry in terms of gender diversity. Levy, who manages Google's agency relationships and sales channels for the Americas, also offered advice on what else can be done to improve the situation.
This interview has been lightly edited.
When did this become a passion point for you?
It's become more of a passion as I've gotten older and more senior. When I started out in my career I largely worked in male-dominated environments—I was at a consultancy and I ran a tech company. I was lucky in that I didn't have any egregious experiences, but when I look back now at times I didn't have as much presence or a loud voice in the room, I always took that as it was on me and I needed to do things differently and I'm sure a lot of the time that was true, but I also think some of the times that wasn't so.
When did you realize this?
At Google, my managers and I have taken trainings and gone through things like unconscious bias and I've realized how much the little things make an enormous difference. The focus on helping create an environment that's truly inclusive and addresses those little things on a day-to-day basis makes an enormous difference over time and that has sparked a lot of my passion for me getting more involved.
What's your involvement with The Girls' Lounge?
I've been very involved for four years now and I joined their board last year and I've seen some of things that emerge naturally from the benefits of what is essentially a girls' club.
Last year at Cannes we were having a tough time getting a meeting with one senior client who is female and I found myself getting my hair done next to her at The Girls' Lounge and we were able to cover what we needed to from a business standpoint. I think this is the flipside of what happens in some of the boys' clubs that exist and it increased my awareness of the impact of these opportunities.
Are you seeing a lack of gender diversity among the agencies you work with?
It's a mix. There's been a ton documented about the opportunities to further diversity and inclusion on the agency side. What encourages me is I'm seeing a lot more recognition and discussion about the opportunity that gender diversity and inclusion presents, particular at the senior level.
Do any examples stick out?
If you look at what [Interpublic Group CEO] Michael Roth is doing in terms of setting an example and it's making a difference in that organization. [In April, Roth said 40% of Interpublic's board is made up of women and 54% of its managers are women. The holding company also launched a major initiative for women of color in the industry this spring.] Similarly, if you look across the agency ecosystem, you see examples of more women and more people of color. I'm encouraged by the volume of focus and initial glimmers of progress.
Do you think this has had an impact on ads?
Yes. I don't think it's a coincidence that Fearless Girl was done by a female team and I'm encouraged by campaigns like, Always' "Like a Girl" and P&G's "Thank You, Mom." We still have a long way to go, but women are being represented and we're seeing campaigns that definitely would not have happened five to 10 years ago.
Are you actively involved in talking to your agency partners about gender diversity?
It's such an active topic in the industry, so we swap best practices and tips and advice and counsel all the time. As a senior woman in the industry, I'm often invited to speak with their staff about my experiences.
What advice do you have for agencies when it comes to gender diversity and inclusion?
For everyone, it matters to have clear concrete goals and transparency behind that. Google has been very open and very public about where we're trying to go and where we stand against it, whether we like where we are on a metric or not. That matters to give people confidence in the sincerity and robustness of a commitment from top to bottom. I'd like to see all companies doing that because the concept of you get what you measure is true.