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How Can We Fast Forward to Gender Parity in the Marketing and Media Industry?

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Janet Balis, Principal, Media & Entertainment Strategy Practice Leader, Ernst & Young, LLP

Most industries face a gender gap, either in leadership, the composition of the workforce or the contributions recognized as made by women. The advertising, marketing and media industries are no different, and there has been a wealth of recent press about these issues, particularly in agencies.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the privilege to hold a number of key leadership roles in media and advertising, so driving this industry closer to gender parity at every level is tremendously important to me. I have the privilege of serving on the board of She Runs It (formerly known as Advertising Women of New York) which has been transformed under the leadership of Lynn Branigan. Since taking the helm, she has worked with the organization’s operating and foundation boards to shape our ambition and align us with a clearly defined purpose.

Earlier this year, She Runs It commissioned a study we are revealing now during Advertising Week, Accelerating the Path to Leadership for Women in Marketing and Media, conducted by EY and LinkedIn – to combine the power of rich data and strategic expertise. This study is foundational to She Runs It, because it allows the organization to take a fact-based approach — at scale — to shape its agenda and activate its mission to pave the way for more women to lead at every level of marketing and media.

The wealth of data LinkedIn understands across its membership allows us to examine how gender influences career journeys across the media and marketing ecosystem. From media companies to advertising agencies to broadcast and cable networks to ad tech companies, we found a noticeable disparity between how well men and women build their trajectory to influential and leadership roles. And most importantly, the findings illuminate tangible actions that She Runs It, and indeed all women, men and companies across the industry can take to redress the balance.

These are a few of the findings that resonated with me:

1. The perception that the gender gap widens at the top of organizations is unfortunately true. While 41% of the people at early stages of their careers in media and marketing industry are women, at the top, women drop down to only comprise 25% of executive leadership roles.

2. There’s been a lot of talk about gender dynamics within the leadership of agencies. While each agency has their own story, it was sobering to see that the media and creative agencies demonstrate the most stark barrier to the C-suite for women, when compared with career journeys in other subsectors of the industry.

3. Women at the top tend to effectively own their personal brands, but on the journey to those roles, the study showed that women overlooked the need to promote themselves and their work. By contrast, men start building their personal brands far earlier. This is a remarkably actionable finding for women at all stages — that building our own brand is a personal choice, and based on the data, it’s never too early.

4. Women should prioritize building their professional networks, at each stage of their career. Based on the numbers, men are simply making more connections to people across the industry. My personal hypothesis is that women are remarkably focused on delivering the highest-quality work and outcomes. Could women achieve the same workplace excellence but redeploy some small portion of their capacity toward building contacts within and beyond the companies where they work?

5. Women should take more time to recognize the accomplishments of others publicly. In my experience, women can be exceptionally supportive one-on-one, but the study shows that men are simply more active and vocal in endorsing others — both men and women. Endorsing colleagues in the industry is an easy way to build the brands of others (and, in doing so, build our own success too).

I was struck by the power of EY’s Women Fast Forward message when I joined the organization in 2015. I kept re-reading the study which then cited that the current trajectory achieves gender parity in about 80 years. That figure has actually increased dramatically in the intervening time. I don’t know about others, but I know I’m not waiting.

It’s time to fast forward gender parity and control the choices we make as individuals and leaders to transform our industry to make it more effective. She Runs It is not simply admiring the problem — they’re driving the awareness and transformation, together with others deeply committed to the purpose of advancing women’s careers in our industry at all stages. Diversity spurs innovation, attracts new types of talent, drives creativity, offers more effective problem solving, builds bridges across people, and most importantly, drives value creation. The time is now — not only for the media and marketing industry — but across business at large.

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.

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