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‘FFS, Pay Us!’: How the Gender Pay Gap is Holding Adwomen Back 

By Leah Morris, Editor. 

As an independent publication, Mavens plays an important role in pulling back the curtain on the state of the industry. As its Editor, I am often reminded of the need for such transparency. Because the reality for women in ads is still vastly different to the reality for men. Let me give you some examples. 

Late last year, I attended an event at a big-name Melbourne agency that had posters in the womens toilets showing mental health helplines next to crying-face emojis (perplexing, unless you’ve worked at an agency where women are crying in the bathrooms most days). I spoke to a Senior Account Director who was being pushed out of her agency despite being promised Managing Partner. I met with a friend who was sexually assaulted by a colleague and isn’t well enough to work anymore as a result. I was dropped from an industry panel at late notice after putting hours of work into preparing. I can (but won't) name multiple women who were made redundant while on parental leave. Another who was demoted from her CD role and a man hired in her place (while she was still at the agency). And I spoke to a Copywriter whose Art Director colleague continuously put down her work and spoke over the top of her – she didn’t want to leave but couldn’t see another option to protect her mental health. On top of all this, as it stands women are being paid less for their work.

You see, money talks – and it says a lot. Especially in the business of commercial creativity, where we’re apt at putting dollar values on everything from ROI to social currency and fudging it when we can’t (hello, case study reels). But have we been fudging it when it comes to gender equality, too? 

Late last month, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) published pay gap data for Australian private sector employers with 100 or more staff. It was recently made mandatory that these organisations report to WGEA.

When B&T looked into this data for their own reporting, they found that some of Australia’s biggest multinational agencies had gender pay gaps as big as 19.2%, and only one agency had parity. Just one agency. 

WGEA has not made an industry pay gap available for advertising and media specifically: the closest category is ‘Professional, Scientific and Technical Services’ with a gap of 23%. 

However, Ad Council’s 2021 ‘Create Space’ Census estimated the industry pay gap at 33% which is shamefully higher than the national average of 12% (which means women earn 88 cents per dollar earned by men – ABS). That's $238 less each week, and $12,376 less per year (not including the associated superannuation). 

“Sometimes data can be a double-edged sword. It can reveal some things, whilst disguising others,” says Regina Stroombergen, Co-founder of MIA (Mums In Ads).

“If we’re talking about gender balance only, the numbers are starting to improve when it comes to senior leadership across the industry. And while there seems to be a narrative that more women are holding top roles, there’s a glaring omission that, still, Australia’s female creative leaders can pretty much be counted on one hand.” 

In fact, it takes only one finger to count the ratio of women Creative Directors which is 1 in 10, or ten percent as spotlighted by Creative Natives’ Mikhaela Warburton in her exclusive opinion editorial for Mavens. Warburton notes: “Of those most likely to leave the creative and advertising industry, 70% are women between the ages of 25 and 35.” 

Stroombergen’s MIA Co-Founder Julia Spencer has observed similar issues. 

“The creative department is undoubtedly the final frontier for gender equality in this industry."

"With so few females in senior positions, the gender pay gap data, although non-existent to this level of specificity, would be woeful. And then there’s the issue of pay parity which is one of those things we just all know isn’t being rectified in creative departments. But of course pay secrecy is still written into contracts and so the problem festers on and on, unchecked.” 

Personally, I believe the issue of underpaying women is compounded for women at the intersections, more specifically women of colour, queer women and women with disabilities. Disappointingly, I have not been able to obtain data to back up this contention, but you need only look at the trade press to see who is being most celebrated in Adland. As of March this year, Campaign Brief had 2 women and 9 men represented for opinions on their Best Ads of 2024. AdNews Hall of Fame has 24 men and 1 woman (Melinda Geertz with her incredible four-decade career at Leo Burnett). To my knowledge, none of the Hall-of-Famers identify as people of colour. 

Which brings us to pathways. 

“It’s important to get everyone aware that women mostly make up the majority of junior, lower paid roles, and that’s how agencies achieve parity,” says Sarah Vincenzini, Creative Director and creator of Campaign Bechdel, a world-first tool to measure gender stereotypes in ads.

“But women are not being retained or promoted into senior roles where they can earn big salaries and have bigger influence. It’s smoke and mirrors equality.” 

At Mavens, we believe immovably in the power of role modelling which is why it’s our mission to champion women in the creative industry. Who wouldn't benefit from the chance to learn from experienced midlife women? But they’re as rare as unicorn poop. 

According to London-based Creative Director and author of ‘Invisible to Invaluable: Unleashing the Power of Midlife Women’ Jane Evans, there’s a simple solution: “Start now by banishing the idea that a woman over 45 goes in the next round of redundancies.”

And remember to pay them well according to their extensive experience. 

Not only that, choose women who care about supporting the next generation. It’s sad that we have to say it, but if you’re a woman whose ever been bullied by another women at work, you’ll know what I mean. 

Associate Creative Director Shyaire Ganglani explains: "Women who have ascended to leadership positions in today’s world have had to be part of the 'boys' club,' adopting thick skins and 'shark-like' attitudes. This raises the question: where does this leave young women who value empathy in their role models?"

"Who is reassuring them that showing emotions, perhaps even crying in a boardroom, is acceptable when their male counterparts can raise their voices, toss papers, and slam laptops without reproach?"

Lastly, make sure you’re creating safe workplaces. This should go without saying, but we need to employ zero tolerance for sexual harassment at all times. 

Says former BBH Chair Cindy Gallop: “Women – you have to call it out. The reason women don’t is because they worry it will ruin their career if they do. But if you don’t call it out your career is fucked anyway. Because there will be repercussions, and you don’t want to work in a place where when you call it out they don’t respond in the right kind of way. If you are anywhere where you’re not respected, get the fuck out, because you don’t want to be there. Men – you need to know that this happens to us all the time. And you need to look out for us. You need to have your antennae attuned to when this is happening. You need to see when women are visibly uncomfortable, squirming… And you need to address this because this is best tackled by men, rather than us having to deal with the burden all on our own.” 

So, let’s make 2024 the year we all do better. And for fucks sake, pay women properly. 

Image: Stable Diffusion. 


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