How to Thrive in the Age of the Sexist Paradox

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Cover image for  article: How to Thrive in the Age of the Sexist Paradox

It’s a paradoxical time for women. We’re making history and breaking barriers but in doing so, we’re reminded that we’ve come just far enough to realize how stubbornly engrained misogyny is -- and how incredibly far we are from eradicating it. “Nasty woman” has become another label women now wear with defiant pride.   

What the Harvard Men’s Soccer Team, Billy Bush and a few infamous agency executives don't want us to forget is that “locker room talk” perpetuates. Women can aspire to great heights, but a gender-fair meritocracy is, for now, an illusion.  Until the Mad Men-era double standard is disrupted, women will remain tokens, objects and boxes to be checked on an agency diversity manifest regardless of our potential or what we may achieve.

Fortunately, there are a few noteworthy CMOs disrupting advertising-business-as-usual.  These men and women are advocating for equality with their ad spend; they are deliberately creating account service models wherein women and minorities are given a fair shot. In some cases, they are demanding it.  If you want to thrive in our business, these are the clients you want to work with. And if that’s not possible, push for your agency to embrace the new standards these visionaries are establishing.

Bradley Jakeman: The president of Pepsi Beverages was the first and most vocal supporter of diversity, famously shaking up the ANA last year with a cri de coeurfor more women and minorities on his business, both on his brand teams and within his agencies. Jakeman was an early proponent of the insight that more relevant ideas would come from creatives who represent the consumer -- and that means women.

Antonio Lucio: As the CMO of HP has said, “50% of my marketing leaders are women, and it’s not because they are women; they are kick-ass marketers.” But the ass-kicking starts with Lucio. He was one of the first clients to demand that his agencies break the white-guy model as a term and condition for working on his brand.

Roger Adams: Insurance giant USAA’s top marketer had a swift no-tolerance response to the sexist and racist agency shenanigans of Campbell Ewald, put the account in review, and demanded a diversity plan as a criteria for the pitch. In the end, the business went to another agency notorious for sexism, but the impact of the move is still reverberating.   

Ann Simonds: The CMO of General Mills put her business in review and made it clear that only agencies with a gender- and minority-fair diversity plan need apply. The significance of the requirements was groundbreaking. “It feels like a first,” she said. “I think it’s rare and it is important.”

Diego Scotti: The third billion-dollar advertiser to make a public demand for more women and minorities serving their accounts. Joining HP and General Mills, Verizon’s CMO gave his eleven agencies a month to come up with an action plan to increase women and minorities on his business.

Marc Pritchard: Arguably the most powerful CMO in the world, Pritchard has not set specific goals, quotas or penalties for the plethora of agencies who work on his many brands. However, no organization has been more publicly supportive of creativity and diversity in both programs and campaigns, and his commitment is evident in the brand voice across many P&G properties.

While just a sliver of our industry, these six marketing executives represent more than $20 billion in ad spend – a.k.a. agency billings.  They are championing the talents of women and minorities and they’re making sure their money is influencing agency practices, if not attitudes.  As a result, advertising’s women will thrive, and our entire industry will change for the better. It must.

As was proclaimed at the 3% Conference for agency gender diversity: “In a few years, let’s hope there’s no longer a reason to have this conference.”

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