Four Ways the Ad World Can Move Past the Gender Problem

How to Support Work-Life Balance for All Employees -- Not Just Women

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There's a lot of talk in the advertising industry about the way women are treated in the workplace. Are we doing enough to support their work-life balance? How can we fix the gender gap? How do we get more women into the highest levels of creative leadership?

It's a conversation that's long overdue, and it's great that it's happening, even if there are no easy answers. But sometimes I'm left wondering if we're asking ourselves the right questions. If the conversation is only focused on challenges women face, instead of the root problems that affect the industry, we're only talking to half the workforce. In time, aren't people who feel they aren't directly impacted simply going to drop out of the conversation?

Clearly the issues at hand are significant, but the fact of the matter is that they affect us all. This industry may be disproportionately hard on women, but if we're working to make changes, it's wise to remember that it's hard on everyone. Single people. Married people. Parents. Women and men. They say a rising tide lifts all boats, so perhaps a more holistic approach is in order, particularly when it comes to supporting work-life balance and families.

As we rethink the working environment in the advertising industry, here are four strategies that will help us all, including women:

1. Shift the focus from moms to families. No matter how generous or well-intentioned your parental policies might be, when companies act as if mothers are the default parent, they're actually hurting moms and families. It's time for people to realize that when they support dads, they're also supporting moms. Even when given flexible hours, parental leave or work-from-home options, women's careers lag if they are the only ones expected to take time away from the office to provide childcare. Every day that a dad shares the load and takes off to care for a sick child or attend a teacher meeting is a day that his partner can go to work. When you create a culture that encourages and expects fathers to utilize all the benefits you have available for parents, you take a step toward equality at home and at work for both sexes.

2. Don't forget those without children. Childless employees shouldn't be punished for their lack of offspring by being made to pick up the slack for parents taking time off for their children. And what are we doing to help those who don't have children but have pressing family issues? Many are tasked with taking care of an aging parent. Family friendly policies should be good for everyone. But companies have to have the staffing levels to back up possible outages. For employees who aren't needed by their families, make sure there are benefits in place should they be called upon to do extra work in the form of bonuses or extra vacation days.

3. Encourage cross-gender mentorship. Mentorship is something that we sorely need, but it is lacking in our industry. It's great when it happens organically, but it can be just as beneficial when it happens more formally under the guidance of the workplace. Workplaces can benefit from creating in-house programs that match women and men at different stages of their careers in mentoring relationships. Besides being a great a way for employees at every level to expose themselves to different skill sets and points of view, it's an opportunity for men in the earlier stages of their career to forge bonds with experienced, powerful women, and for male leaders to gain perspectives and insights from younger female employees. Breaking down the gender gap will take a lot of work, but one-on-one relationships can be a powerful tool in the fight.

4. Make hiring and promotion gender-blind. Hiring for gender alone will not impact change and executives know that. But we do have an obligation to make sure our hiring practices and our promotion pipeline is gender-blind. Bromance is bad for business. The disproportionate amount of buying power women have versus the percentage of men who are creating marketing is why the 3% Conference was born (although now the figure has increased to 11% of creative leadership positions held by women). Even so, if just 11% of creative directors are women, the work will not be as dimensional as it could and should be. This is not to say that women have to work on women's products. That would be devolution. Hopefully we are past ECDs assigning women to new biz pitches for women's brands. Or keeping women off testosterone-driven brand clients. Some of my favorite campaigns have been women writing for men's products, and vice versa. Talent is gender blind. Why aren't we?

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