• Lora Schellenberg

The Future of Work: How women & men can thrive equally

Co-written by Anna Leigh Kennedy & Lora Schellenberg



Circle’s latest event featured a panel discussion on The Future of Work: How women & men can thrive equally, partnering with Hidden, VaynerMedia and Conscious Advertising Network (CAN).


The discussion covered topics such as:

  • Getting more women into decision-making roles and why mentorship is key

  • Creating true inclusion in the workplace

  • How we as individuals can contribute to awareness and change

  • Advertising’s role in promoting diversity & inclusion


The panel included:

Ross kicked us off with the challenging question how can women better place themselves in decision-making roles?

To address this from a global perspective, Andrea provided insight into studies that have identified a uniquely western “confidence gap” between women and their male counterparts.

The research demonstrated that women in the west are more likely to compare themselves with men rather than each other, whereas in Asia there are noticeably less confidence tensions as women compare themselves to female peers to create a seemingly more supportive female network around them.

With this difference in mind, support is a key component of Western women’s progression and having both explicit and implicit role models is key. This could include a dedicated mentor to confide in or an inspirational leader to give you an idea about what’s possible.

Adding to this, Harriet cited that only 12% of Creative Directors are female and yet women account for almost 85% of purchase decisions in an average household. This disconnect shows how much the confidence gap impacts female visibility in roles and a further example of this is the lower numbers of female speakers at events.


This insight was reinforced by Daniele, who said that he would only need to ask an average of 3 men to ensure that an event speaking position was filled, versus an average of 12 women. It has been difficult to source female speakers to date, hence the founding of initiatives such as WomenPresent, specifically to combat the lack of female representation and build confidence.


Daniele then went on to mention that more recently, a Lean In Foundation study demonstrated that post ”Me Too”, many male managers expressed feeling uncomfortable in one-to-one scenarios with female colleagues. This can present a challenge for men engaging in mentoring opportunities for women.





How can organisations combat "tokenism" and create true inclusion?


First off, you’ll probably want to understand what “tokenism” is if you don’t already. It is defined as “the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do something, for example by recruiting a small number of people from under-represented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce.”


With the affectionately dubbed “Gary Vee”, founder of VaynerMedia, seen to spearhead a very ‘testosterone-led’ business, Andrea was quick to balance this view: “our culture might be testosterone led but as a team we’re empathetic. We even have a Chief Heart Officer to ground the company as human first.”


By committing inclusion to the leadership agenda, companies can tackle any intersectional tensions - beyond gender alone. Further to this, companies are able to thrive when the culture serves what you do.


An example of supporting initiatives that drive this are:


Andrea included her point of view with regards to company culture. “Compliance and the adoption of quotas is problematic as figures can be ‘fudged’ to look best, whereas true progress is achieved by creating genuine cultures. A culture is the thinking and behaving that employees and colleagues uphold - it’s not about a number or perception game.”


Harriet jumped in to explain CAN’s perspective. “As part of this, we offer an achievable leadership position for brands and marketing practitioners to implement change. By prompting the questions to be asked internally, change will follow.”


Advertising plays a huge role in our perceptions, thus has a huge responsibility in shaping the future of work for both women and men. It has the power to reach and preach to the non-converted, not just the converted.





How can we as individuals promote gender awareness?


Although it may not feel like it at times, Daniele believes that masculinity in the workplace is adapting. He cited that “83% of men want to spend more time with their children. Flexible work practices are wanted by all people regardless of their gender. It’s an important initiative to implement to realise inclusion in all work cultures.”


Where work cultures are failing to catch up with the times and not making efforts to change, Daniele’s hard line is “Leave. Only when talent exits and a business suffers will ignorant leaders listen to the change that is desperately needed.”


At the end of the day, it’s up to each and every one of us to spread awareness and challenge companies on their diversity policies and approaches. After all, the war for talent is real, and we have the ability to question these things. We must challenge from the bottom up.


This led us to the final question: Can advertising play a role in diversity and acceptance?


The panel’s examples unanimously agreed that the simple answer is: yes.


Here are some powerful examples:

  • Mothercare’s “Beautiful, Isn’t She?” campaign featuring natural women post childbirth

  • Looks Like Me, a UK casting agency that’s actively working to make media representative

  • P&G is a huge #SeeHer supporter and spending big to get behind this overall initiative

  • Lynx launched the ‘Find your magic’ campaign

  • Kelloggs has seen a rise of 26% purchase intent, 45% uptake with women and 11% overall brand uplift with its commitment to women’s initiatives


Let’s all confidently say that women and men thriving equally not only makes sense for the world in general, it makes business sense!


Are you interested in supporting Circle, a London-based community aimed at helping women thrive in the future of work? We’re looking for companies to sponsor our initiative and our events. We’d love to hear from you!

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