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"Not Another Survey" Worthwhile Just For Men's Equality Perceptions

Thanks to a new study, we now know – for the first time – how many Aussie ad men really give a f**k about gender equality. Approximately 245, based on the government-commissioned ‘ShEqual’ survey. Conducted by Empirica Research in October this year, the survey measured attitudes to gender equality among those working in and around Australian advertising.

Of the 598 adland professionals, 41% of respondents were male. This is an exceptional effort given that men typically engage less with gender equality surveys (just 13% of Mavens’ own Gender Diversity Study were male). It shows that many men are prepared to give up their time to aid equality initiatives – even if some of the responses were questionable.

Disavowel and denial are causes of inaction

“In my opinion gender equality is the most overrated and ridiculously politically correct issue of our time. – Male 30-34 years, Agency/Client.

As the ShEqual study separated male and female responses, Mavens were able to observe the level of agreement between genders on specific topics.

For example, 72% of women and 58% of men agreed that gender stereotypes in advertising contribute to violence against women. Which it does – an RMIT research paper proved exposure to sexist advertising is linked to greater support for sexist beliefs and attitudes that blame victims for sexual violence (just sayin').

When it comes to equal pay, 83% of women and 68% of men would strongly support

their employer undertaking a pay audit to identify any gender pay discriminations.

And regarding representation, 62% of women and just 36% of men would strongly support their employer setting targets or quotas for gender representation at senior levels.

Right now, the number of women in senior management roles sits at 33 per cent,* but we are yet to see data on whether these women are in creative leadership, client services or business management, among other roles.

It's also unclear as to diversity of women in our industry's leadership positions – an important consideration when pursuing genuine gender equality.

Says Katarina Matic, Senior Creative at Bullfrog and panellist for the survey’s launch event: “We have a problem, and I think acknowledging that is the first step to fixing it. I really hope the findings encourage workplaces to not only invest in diverse talent, but foster inclusive environments that support all women, women of colour, non-binary folk, and marginalised genders as well, so that we can all thrive.”

Equal parental leave would benefit all

The ShEqual survey found evidence that when women’s issues affect men too, as with parental rights, there is closer alignment. Both male and female respondents expressed that advertising workplace structures and grind culture (in particular, long and often unpredictable hours) present a major barrier to work-life balance, especially for those juggling family responsibilities.

Said one woman: “Encouraging fathers to take 6 months off when their new baby is born will a) remove the stigma around women going on maternity leave, b) allow fathers to be fully present with their families, to contribute more than just a pay check and c) make a truly equal playing field so women aren’t seen as a liability and men aren’t seen as useless with their kids.”

A male respondent said: “Women rule the industry up to the age where they leave to have kids. The biggest thing that can be done to change things and deliver greater equality is to make it easier for women to return to the workplace. When we have more female leaders then we will have a better approach.”

Right now in Australia, only mothers (or specially approved carers, such as adoptive parents) are eligible for government-funded parental leave payments – and only if they earn under $150,000.** Some large agencies have more generous offers subsidised by the businesses themselves, but they aren’t required to by law.

Workplaces not all safe spaces

Sexism and gender discrimination continue to be everyday experiences for women in the advertising industry.

Sexist jokes, pregnancy discrimination, pay inequality, sexual harassment and even assault turn workplaces into a special kind of hell for some.

With non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) employed in many cases, it's not surprising that the ShEqual survey unearthed a clear call for greater accountability for those who engage in – or protect those who engage in – sexist, discriminatory and predatory behaviours. It should be noted here that NDAs are problematic because they ultimately gag victims from speaking about their experiences, thus protecting perpetrators' anonymity which can allow them to continue their lives and careers, often with minor consequences.

So why aren’t more of us speaking up? Responses indicated that 46% of women fear negative consequences, while men don’t feel it’s their place to do so. That said, women generally feel men CAN and SHOULD speak up.

Diversity leads to better work

"I hope the survey achieves what it had initially set out to achieve – lift the quality of work that we produce as an industry," says Katarina, "Particularly how we portray people’s genders in our advertising stories. And in turn start to undo some of the limiting messages we spread about gender that inadvertently contributes to a culture of violence against women in our society."

Men, join women in becoming equality advocates and let’s build safer, more creative spaces to put the Australian ad industry back on the map.

Due to concerning issues raised by the ShEqual survey, the Victorian Minister for Women has announced an additional boost of $275,000 to support future initiates from ShEqual. Women’s Health Victoria thanks everyone who participated in the survey and contributed to this outcome.

For more stats and findings, view the free snapshot report here.

*Advertising Council of Australia’s 2021 Salary Survey.

** Services Australia: ‘Who can get parental leave pay’

Image source: ‘Madison Avenue,’ Holiday magazine, April 1950.


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