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How can agency leads promote gender diversity among adland creatives?

How can agency leads promote gender diversity among adland creatives?

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Gender diversity in workplaces has become an increasingly popular corporate buzzword across the APAC region in recent years. However, workplaces are still lacking diversity in senior roles. 

According to a 2022 report by The Sasakawa Peace Foundation titled “Gender Equality in Asia-Pacific”, the APAC region did not perform well on workplace gender equality overall, with an average gender equality score of 33%. In particular, Japan and Hong Kong lagged behind New Zealand, Singapore, and Australia, the report revealed.  
At the top, women made up just 4% of CEOs, 10% of CFOs, and 5% of board chairs in the APAC region. Women’s representation across the workforce of listed companies is also low, standing at 35%, said the report. While in Hong Kong, the proportion of female working as managers and administrators, professionals and associate professionals stood at 35.5% in 2020, lower than the 47.5% for male, according to a 2021 survey titled “Gender Equality in Hong Kong” by Equal Opportunities Commission.  

Is there a similar trend in the HK creative industry? 

Zooming into the local advertising creative industry, some of the agency leads that MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to have also noticed a similar trend among local ad land creatives, and it is not a recent trend.  

Joe Ng, creative partner at Frengers Communications, said this has been a phenomenon since he started working in the industry, particularly at the middle and senior levels where there are more male creatives than female generally.  

“I don't think it's because advertising companies lack a diverse mindset, but rather because the industry generally requires long working hours and is very stressful, causing many women to explore other opportunities or even switch careers in the early or middle stages due to natural physiological reasons,” he said.  

Agreeing with him was Kit Yu, creative director of Narrow Door, who attributed the ongoing issue to the long working hours and demanding nature of the advertising industry, which can make it challenging for women to pursue careers in the industry.

As a mother of two children, it's not easy for me to get a balance between home and work ... especially with long working hours and tight deadlines.  

In addition, the phenomenon of male creatives being more prevalent than female creatives within the local ad land community may also be due to an unconscious bias in hiring practices, according to Yu.  

The perception of males performing better in creativity than women is perhaps one of the reasons behind the unconscious bias when hiring creatives.

Yvonne Ma, founder and creative director of Eighty20, said the prevailing view of creativity is often gender related, with a tendency to associate it with masculinity. 

“There is an old saying that engaging in creativity often requires taking risks and challenging established norms in order to generate innovative and original solutions. This type of work is often approached with independence and assertiveness,” she said.  

Is there a gender bias during hiring practices? 

In reality, there may be a higher number of males at the senior level in creative departments of ad agencies, but this is not 100% indicative of a bias in hiring practices.  

Desmond So, CEO of Uth Creative, said rather it speaks to some unique challenges that arise within the advertising industry such as unpredictable work schedules and little room for personal time. 

“As a manager in a creative agency for many years, I can attest that gender does not play a role in the hiring process. Instead, the primary focus is on the candidate's willingness and ability to become a passionate and dedicated creative leader,” he added.  

Agreeing with So was Frengers’ Ng who said the agency doesn’t have a preference on hiring male or female creatives, but it does have a preference on maintaining a 50-50 balance in both the creative and account servicing teams.  

“The communications and advertising industry is about opinions and perspectives. That's why we need different voices with different perspectives in the house to come up with the best solutions for different clients,” he said.  

In fact, quality matters more when it comes to onboarding a creative person. Jarvis Wong, director of Omelette Digital, said the agency only considers quality when bringing in someone, and that should be the only thing that matters.  

“As a boutique agency, we need to share a strong bond, while being exceptionally agile to challenges. We therefore look for some fresh blood who are creative, as well as being able to think independently while working as a team. We do not take gender into consideration,” he said.  

Echoing his views was Narrow Door’s Yu, who said the most important factors for her when hiring creatives are the candidates’ skills, ideas, and ability to work collaboratively.

I believe that it's essential to hire the best talent regardless of their gender. By prioritising these factors over gender, agencies can ensure that they are hiring the most talented and diverse team possible.  

How can industry players step up to promote gender diversity? 

The gender diversity situation among local ad land creatives may have improved over the years, but there is still a long way to go. Frengers’ Ng said the best way for agency leads to encourage more diversity is simple – action.

“Maintaining a diverse team in your agency and then offering them the stage to dance. I don't have a very scientific measurement, but I just can't express how grateful I am for all the positive impact brought by all the amazing ladies in my team, for both business results and team moral,” he said.  

In order to foster a more balanced and diverse creative workforce, Uth Creative’s So said it is essential for agencies to acknowledge the unique challenges faced by female professionals in this industry and seek to create a supportive and flexible work environment. 

Agreeing with him was Yu, who said providing flexible work options for a better work-life balance can help in dealing with the situation.

Agency leads could offer mentorship and training for underrepresented groups and use fair hiring practices that focus on skills, not gender or background. 

On the other hand, Omelette’s Wong said while boutique agencies may not provide a complete HR planning solution for diversity, they have higher flexibility, including flexible working hours and work-from-home for employees.  

Speaking from a wider perspective, Eighty20’s Ma said apart from promoting diversity, it is equally important to ensure that all employees feel a sense of belonging and are treated with respect and dignity, so as to foster a culture of creativity and innovation where everyone can thrive.  

“One quote that has stayed with me from my MBA course is, 'Diversity is everywhere, inclusion is the act, belonging is the result'. This quote emphasises the need to actively work towards creating an environment where everyone feels valued and included,” she said.

Related articles:

'Ads should rely less on outdated and demeaning stereotypes,' say HK female adland creatives this IWD
Gender discrimination in HK: How can brands ensure bias doesn't creep in?
#ExplainIt: HK adland creatives on the recent 'Happy Hong Kong' campaign

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