Why diversity matters in media, especially now  

The challenges facing women and other diverse members of our workforce remain huge. Mentoring has opened my eyes to what still needs to be done says Jana Eisenstein, EMEA Managing Director at Videology.

I count myself fortunate. Throughout my career I have had great opportunities, regardless, or even some would say despite, my gender. 

During my work in consulting, tech and media start-ups, Microsoft and most recently Videology, I’ve been part of diverse, professional teams in environments that were flexible and responsive to the needs of all employees.

But clearly that’s not the case for all women or indeed for all employees. The recent issues at Uber, are merely one illustration of that. Closer to home, I’ve recently been asked to do some mentoring by a number of organisations including Women in Tech and NABs.

This experience has opened my eyes to the systemic issues that some women deal with every day and while there is good news in terms of the increasing number of women in senior positions in the media landscape (in particular within agencies), we still have some way to go in terms of equality in gender pay and seniority. 

The older, more traditional media owners, as well as the world of high technology can still be challenging environments for women.

A good indicator of company culture is often the number of women that represent companies on speaking platforms at large industry forums and conferences. Too often, and I would argue the norm is that we see the vast majority of speakers and panellists being men. 

Looking at the data and my experiences of mentoring, it seems that the critical problem comes not in the early years of womens’ careers but in their later stages when they’ve got a bit of experience and are starting to climb the seniority ladder.

Figures from digital executive search experts The Up Group, shows that the average gender pay gap in remuneration across all industries was around 16.5% in 2016. This falls to just 3.8% across the C-suite, but is biggest for women in senior roles. 

The danger and indeed evidence shows, that when women start to climb the senior career ladder, many choose to move on and do something else with their energy, intelligence and passions. This is more obvious in certain sectors, the Up Group survey showed that women were most under-represented in Finance, Tech and General Management, the situation was improving in e-commerce and marketing and the spread was best in HR.  Figures from Balderton Capital show that only 6% of tech founders in Western Europe are women.

This is not to say it is all bleak.  Within our own industry there are some hugely inspiring people and companies who are doing great work in this area. Media agencies such as MediaCom, Mindshare, Maxus, OMG, Mediavest, the 7 Stars and Dentsu Aegis and tech companies such as Unruly and Facebook are great examples of companies with strong female leaders and senior management.  Across these companies we see great diversity in general which I believe strongly contributes to superior performance.

I’d also like to think that the diverse team that I lead at Videology – 53% female across EMEA, and 50% of Videology Executive team – also offers encouragement to both women and people from different cultures and ethnicities.

The irony is that research from Webber Shandwick last year showed that having women in senior management helps not only improve reputation but also to recruit the best talent.

The results of its Gender Forward Pioneer Index showed that the most admired companies had more senior women leaders – 17% - compared to 8% at companies that were less well regarded. These figures aren’t great but they show what a difference diversity of thought can make.

All this matters because the overall climate feels like it’s getting worse. The World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index 2016 finds that it’ll take another 47 years for women to catch up with men in Western Europe . In South Asia, the worst performing region, it’s more than 1,000 years.

Perhaps most worryingly the situation is even getting worse in North America, my region of origin, which many would expect to lead the way.

Women get attention because they are 50% of the work force but other forms of diversity also play a huge role in encouraging us to think different and treat each other with respect. 

My own experience of working across North America, EMEA, Eastern Europe and in the UK is that more diverse teams ensure that we examine our challenges and opportunities from different points of view and address potential pitfalls head-on, increasing our chances of success.  Communication, creativity and collaboration grows with diversity, not homogeneity. 

This is important because at a time when we are being challenged as never before to reinvent our businesses and our tech and tools, it seems madness to do anything that might stop us or make us more vulnerable.

Research proves this. A recent study by Thomson Reuters, found that companies with more than 30% women on the board fared better in periods of greater economic volatility than those with less than 10% women on the board. 

Diversity will help us be better teams, build better products and services and perform better as businesses. Surely that’s what all companies should want.

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