Diversity in the Communications Industry; The Numbers Don’t Lie

​By Paul Head, CEO, CAANZ

​There has been plenty of discussion over the past few weeks about inclusiveness and diversity in the communications industry, specifically gender diversity and the lack of women leading agencies and creative departments. Are there enough women in senior leadership roles in agencies? No.

But gender equity is a societal issue, not just unique to this field, so challenging these problematic social structures will require initiatives that can sustain broad change and are not mere tokenism. Having said that, everyone has a part to play if change is to happen and our industry is no exception. The imbalance of men leading agencies is incontrovertible; as someone said to me last week: the numbers don’t lie.

The gender imbalance within the communications industry is something that CAANZ has been discussing at board level and in our subcommittees for some time now, and certainly prior to the recent events that focused the spotlight on it even more firmly.

These discussions have been held in the broader context of inclusiveness in our industry more generally, but with an important focus on gender. One likely outcome will be the establishment of an industry Inclusiveness and Diversity Council, to gain a better understanding of the issues and to promote solutions.

I believe this is where CAANZ can add the most value. I’ve been told that females are too often excluded from the “boys club” when it comes to senior management because they are told (by men, but also sometimes by other women) that they don’t “do business the way men do”. So let’s have that conversation and shed some light on it.

There has been considerable research into the impact of gender diversity on business. It shows that diversity makes organisations better workplaces. Diversity makes organisations more profitable.

Women in leadership roles enhance organisational excellence. Businesses with strong gender diversity at Board and C-Suite level are more likely to outperform businesses that don’t on key metrics like profitability and shareholder return. Research also suggests that a specific consequence of greater diversity for shareholders is one of reduced volatility – manifested as enhanced stability in corporate performance and in share price returns.

As an industry association, we can ensure that there is an open, constructive and meaningful discussion around the dominant leadership structures in place, and that the individuals who lead this industry are actively involved in addressing them by applying a critical lens to understanding the issues. Furthermore, we can develop and foster programmes that help support change as it occurs.

However, given the views expressed over the past few weeks it’s clear that more needs to be done to facilitate this change, and faster. The numbers cannot be ignored, making gender diversity very much a live topic with the CAANZ Board.

While we work to address the issues facing our industry today, we would also be well served to consider those yet to come. I noted a study published by the Ministry of Education recently which looked at the gender balance within courses at New Zealand universities and found significant male dominance in areas like computer sciences and technology. This should be a red flag: as our industry becomes more technology- and IT-focused we need to ensure we continue to bring smart young women into it, or we risk gender diversity being an issue we will be talking about for a very long time.