Where are the Power Women? By Austyn Allison

The previous issue of Campaign was bundled with our MENA Power List. It was a supplement where we offered heads – and only heads – of network agencies and holding groups, and of major media owners and reps, the chance to write an essay next to their profile. Everyone on the List was a man. It is a list of 17 talented men who wield power and influence in the brand communications business. No one has suggested any of these men individually should be replaced by a woman, but seeing a list of only men at the top of the industry has drawn attention to the lack of balance.

We did actively reach out to the few women who do head up international companies in the industry. Their agencies declined or were unable to take part. When I mentioned the lack of women in my introduction to the List, I called it a shame and an embarrassment to the industry.

Our Power List upset people. I share their dismay. It is unbalanced and lacks diversity, but I don’t think the list is unrepresentative; the problem is that it is too representative – it shows the top tier of the industry as it is, not as it ought to be.

We didn’t set out to make a point with the List, but it has sparked important conversations.

We could have put a lot more women on the List – by expanding our criteria to allow in other senior management, among whom there are plenty of women. But while that would have looked better superficially, it would paper over the issue of there being only men at the very top.

The strongest reason for doing this is that young women entering the industry could be understandably disheartened at seeing there is no one like them running international agencies. (There are some amazing female-run independent agencies, but I often wonder if at least some of those have been started by women who hit a glass ceiling and had to move outside the global networks to fulfil their potential.)

I’m glad Campaign has sparked conversation, and I hope things will get better, but as one person said on a LinkedIn thread about the List, hope doesn’t equate to change.

Some people have got in touch to ask: How can we get more women on to the list? There are two ways: change the criteria or change the industry. The first option is the easy one and is not without merit, but only the second addresses the fundamental issue.

As individuals we can call attention to the lack of women at the top. As a magazine, Campaign can give voice to this and continue to highlight women at all levels of the business. But where opinion whispers, money can shout.

If enough clients said they would only work with agencies, media, platforms and other partners headed by women, those organisations would likely follow the dollar. They would be financially incentivised to promote some of their excellent and capable women who have waited in the wings for too long.

It would be less drastic but still at least a step in the right direction if every client pledged to invite at least one female-led agency to every pitch they run. (Production houses did this some years back, calling it ‘Free the Bid’.)

I don’t know if these are the only answers, the best answers, or even good answers. But they are alternatives to just hoping things will get better.

I’m looking forward to seeing people’s thoughts, and at Campaign we will try to echo and contribute to this vital conversations and champion the many amazing women out there.