Rikki Burns: Diversity = Creativity = Profitability

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Meerkats' senior creative Rikki Burns, along with colleagues Melissa Radman and Melanie Wiese, recently attended the 3% Conference Australasia in Sydney.

In 2015, Ernst & Young's gender parity countdown clock estimated parity would occur within 80 years. In 2017, that has changed to 170 years. A shocking, if unsurprising, way for Venus founder and ECD Bec Brideson to open the 3% Conference Australasia on Friday. But the research is in, and the results are clear: Gender diversity makes direct, measurable business sense, and it's time for agency land to put our collective foot (foots? feets?) on the accelerator.

The 3% Movement began in 2010, so named because, at the time in the US, only 3% of Creative Directors were women. Creator Kat Gordon stresses that it's not about feminism or equality, but business. It's a movement intended to disrupt a creative industry in danger of atrophy via self-replication. 

Surely it doesn't matter who does the work, as long as it's the best work, right?
True, but incomplete, according to keynote speaker Lisen Stromberg, COO of the 3% Movement. The 'best' is a determination heavily dependent on the lens through which the work is judged. Thus, 'blind recruitment' risks affinity bias, validating redundancy and reducing innovation.

"Research shows that while gender-diverse teams take longer to reach results, those results are more innovative", said Stromberg.

You need only look at the One Show Blank Annual to see that while only 39% of awarded work had at least one female on the creative team, of the Gold Pencil winners, 64% had female credits. In fact, the higher the award, the higher the percentage of gender-diverse teams.

These sentiments were strengthened by Anna Green of the Boston Consulting Group, who showed that Fortune 500 companies with 30% or more leadership roles filled by women had a profit margin 6% greater than those without. Mike Hill, co-founder of Puffling, also cited a Bloomberg study that found tech companies founded by women delivered a 35% higher ROI.

Diversity = Creativity = Profitability.

But it's not just up to agencies. Clients should be demanding diversity in their agency partners, according to Clare Cahill, Head of Experience Marketing for the Asia-Pacific region at Adobe. Women control the majority of all consumer spending (around 79-85%, depending on the study), yet the work that is supposed to motivate this spending most often comes from a male perspective.

The 'Manbassador' panel highlighted the need for men to be included in the gender conversation, and called on all leaders to be catalysts of change. When the panelists were asked how they felt about speaking, one replied, "fucking uncomfortable". All agreed that while they were strong champions of gender parity, they were still concerned about "saying the wrong thing", or "getting in trouble".

The 'Extraordinary Power of Female ECDs' panel addressed the baby elephant in the room: motherhood will be the single most financially damaging factor in a woman's career. (Interestingly, Annabel Crabb's 'The Wife Drought' cites that on average, parenthood will actually boost an Australian father's lifetime earnings by half a million dollars). The panellists called for an immediate shift in automatically-assumed caring roles, demanding equality for fathers. They dismissed talk of simply updating recruitment or retention policies, in favour of total company restructure from the ground up. For gender parity to occur, flexible work arrangements must be normalised for all parents.

So where to from here?

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Anna Green stressed that well-meaning diversity programs without KPIs are a waste of time and money. If you're ready to make changes, be sure to manage them as you would any other project. The inimitable Cindy "I like to blow shit up; I'm the Michael Bay of business" Gallop (pictured left), closed the conference with a stern warning: "You can't create a new world order in an old-world workplace."

If you don't see enough change from your employer, either find a better agency, or start your own.

The 3% Annual Fall Conference is being held in New York this November. Their CD Bootcamp is of particular note, promising to leave senior creatives much better prepared to confidently take on a Creative Director role.

4 Comments

Nick Bayes said:

Great piece Rikki. I agree with everything you said. Our industry is sadly lacking in diversity. The vast majority of people, both male and female, who run and work for agencies are white, middle-class and from the golden triangle or similar locations. We need to change the make-up of our businesses. Diversity is essential, not just from a gender perspective, but also from an ethnic and socio-economic point of view as well.

Rikki said:

Ta Nick! The November conference theme is 'Beyond Gender', addressing diversity in a broader sense. Have you thought about going?

Nick Bayes said:

Might just do that!

Interested said:

That's great Nick. Good to see it's not just words coming from the heads of the industry. Would be great to see an informative piece on your experience.

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