Loud chief executive Lorraine Jokovic: Is there merit in merit in the gender equality debate?

Lorraine-Jokovic-LOUD.jpgLorraine Jokovic, the CEO of Sydney creative agency Loud and chair of The Communications Council's Diversity Group, believes that the best way to achieve gender diversity is not through quotas. In this opinion piece she argues that quotas are a token solution to a complex problem.

Looking around at today's Legends and Leaders 'Status Quota' debate at Vivid, it seemed I was one of, if not THE, most senior women in the room, and indeed the industry. And, as an owner of an agency that employs a wonderful balance of genders and the mother of a talented young woman who has just started her career in the creative industry, this subject is very real and close to my heart.

It's real in terms of the impact on our industry, our reputation, our productivity and our performance. It's real in terms of the people it impacts.

Given we are a creative industry and we are supposed to lead cultural change, imagine what our future will look like if we don't get this right?
Our pro-quota opposition in the debate would have us believe that unconscious bias is so inherent that its impossible to change attitudes. And, that the pressure of time means we need to do something now.

Our pro-merit team, on the other hand, argued that we need to take the time to get this right. If we don't shift attitudes then we'll still be discussing this in decades to come.

It's clear that the BEST way to achieve gender diversity is not through quotas. Quotas are a token solution to a complex problem.

Our first speaker spoke about the devastating impact quotas could have on the success of the individual placed in these roles. Imagine the impact on their credibility, their struggle to prove themselves?

Imagine putting this roadblock in front of someone who is perfectly qualified for the role? Then imagine the impact on the business, its performance and most importantly, its people?

And what about quotas for single level jobs such as the CEO or ECD?

How could that work; would a woman get the job when a man left? And vice versa? Imagine the impact on morale, collaboration and staff retention? And, again the impact on business, performance and people?

Today we also touched on the affect unconscious bias has on meritocracy and the different approaches of the genders. Remember the HBR report that informs us men will apply for a role when they meet 60% of the criteria but women will wait until they meet 100%? And that women lose their voice when it comes to asking to be paid what they're worth, whereas men will aim for far more than they are worth? These are complex problems that require more than the token solution of quotas.

Our team also spoke about quotas not tackling the myriad of root-cause problems, but actually creating more. There are complex issues that require deep thinking, such as:

    Workplace flexibility so that family demands can be managed
    Equal pay
    Male dominated cultures
    Female mentors
    Valuing different management styles - potential/experience
    Sidelining the best candidate by appointing people on gender not merit
    And the battle for a woman to be credited with earning a role rather than being appointed because of quotas

We can look at some of the learnings from the early adopters of gender quotas - Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway:

    Neutral or negative results for women's advancement
    Neutral or negative results for company performance
    There was no improvement to women's pay
    In Norway, 20% of the companies required to comply with gender quotas changed their structure to circumvent the new legislation
    Share prices dropped 3.5% after the legislation was announced.

My debate team and I wholeheartedly support gender diversity. But that diversity will only be achieved when:

    Both genders are recognised and rewarded in parity
    Merit is fair and balanced
    Unconscious bias is called out and derided in the same manner as implicit bias
    Workplace flexibility supports all family needs
    Corporate culture has no gender
    Targets become the way we are challenged and become accountable

These are multilayered, complex problems for which quotas are a token solution.

And, when we get this right it won't be by changing one word in a sentence from: "I didn't get the job because I am a woman" to "I did get the job because I'm a woman" - but because we created genuine change. Then, the sentence becomes, "I got the job because they saw the merit I bring to the table."

CLICK HERE for more information on The Communications Council's Diversity Group.

6 Comments

Eye Roll said:

Will someone think of the poor men who are currently systematically given advantages/promotions because of their gender? I'm worried they are staying awake up night, worrying that they aren't deserving of their jobs over the women around them, who are better.


Merit, schmerit. said:

Was I fired from my job based on my merit, or fired from my job based on being pregnant? Merit counts for nothing against institutional sexism. Heaps of blokes have hired their mates not for their merit but for their companionship at the pub, and heaps of smart women have disappeared from agencies once their family obligations began affecting their "merit". Grr.Arrg.

Michele O'Neill said:


If quotas aren't the way to go as your panel seems to conclude, then published targets and quantifiable goals are necessary. Without accountability, the rhetoric will drag on and on. The intention of The Agency Circle is to have leaders stick their heads above the parapet and declare what needs fixing and by when. You're in or you're out. Any employer who means business and isn't just nodding along because it's (finally) fashionable, will be on to this already.

Realist said:

If you want ground swell for change then quota's are a real opportunity to build the wave. Women supporting other women and getting behind them to champion their oppotunity to grow and develop is what will make the difference. Having quota's in place wtih great feminist leadership can make the difference and break the strangle hold men have on the top jobs. We need more women at the table and in the top roles to effect real change.

Copy Desk said:

Quotas are a good idea.

If there's a dominant group, let's say men, they'll naturally favour hiring people who are like them, i.e. other men. Quotas force men to consider hiring people not like them. Let's hear it for quotas. Is that just stating the obvious? Good.

While we're at it, maybe we need to expand what we mean by merit. It's a stretch to try and convince anyone that having a dick makes you better at ads. So why can't we redefine what merit in advertising means?

Most male creatives I know are really smart. But they're a mixed bag when it comes to interpersonal skills, focus, client relationship skills, time management and multitasking. Essential skills in any creative department. Males. Mixed bag.

I'm fairly average at most of those things. The women I work with in creative are not. They are, almost down to the last one, better than almost all of the guys I work with in those aspects. This, along with being indistinguishable in terms of creative ability, means they outmerit most of the males if you look at the full gamut of skills required to be good at ads.

Maybe our current definition of merit in advertising subconsciously favours men, and maybe that shit needs to change.

And quite frankly, as much as it's an overhang from the time of Bakelite, woman are involved in probably 8 out of 10 instances of someone bringing in cakes and/or brownies to share. Do people hate brownies? Do people not want to eat free cake?

Before you crucify me for reinforcing gender stereotypes, think about your own workplace. Right? Just holding up a mirror guys. Just holding up a mirror.

unhappy meal said:

You should get a gig in a creative agency because you have the best book. not a vagina.

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