‘Don’t Let Them Get Left Behind’: Meet The Women at Tag Who Took ‘Boy’s Club’ Culture Out of The Equation
“Where are all the women leaders?” is a question that has long been asked by women in marketing and advertising, but answered very slowly by the industry at large. A 2018 survey by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) found that women made up only 32.7% of all C-suite roles, a marginal increase from 31.2% in 2017. At creative agencies, women accounted for 32.8% of C-suite roles while at media agencies, the figure stands at 32.7%. While the upward trend is positive to observe, it still doesn't come close to gender parity. There is data to suggest that efforts to open this industry up to women over recent years are beginning to show. Another 2018 survey conducted by Women in Advertising and Communication Leadership (WACL) and LinkedIn found that half of all LinkedIn members who work in marketing, media, and communications are women, however, congruous with the IPA survey, only 36% of those women are in leadership roles.
Bringing ourselves forward into 2021 and data from McKinsey suggests that the coronavirus pandemic has actually decelerated recent progress (for women in all industries) due to the negative impact of existing inequalities. That’s why it’s vital to address the progress lost now and to ensure that the next generation of women leaders aren’t left behind in the post-covid world. Research by McKinsey found that companies with diverse leadership benefit from a 21% uplift in profits, compared to those who don’t. Clearly, there’s more to the diversity conversation than lip service – the numbers add up too.
Taking tangible steps and action to address gender diversity is something that has been woven into the fabric of Tag over recent years and positively booted into top priority by its current leadership team worldwide. Speaking exclusively to LBB are four of its female leaders from Tag Europe – Andria Vidler, EMEA CEO; Helen Weisinger, EMEA CMO; Sue Tait, head of sourcing network; and Tamara Lover, divisional director. We speak to them about how they ushered in a new era of cultural transformation, what it takes to build a culture that nurtures the next generation, and why actionable change is needed to keep the industry on track.
Rebuilding Office Culture
The global events of the last eighteen months have affected companies and offices everywhere. While some are waiting for the governmental green light to return to ‘business as before’, Tag is taking a measured approach. Andria Vidler calls this period “a blank piece of paper on which to recreate the culture,” adding that beyond Tag, “many organisations can no longer question the benefits and people’s ability to work from home.”
Historically, women have always called for a greater degree of flexibility when it came to managing a work/life balance, however, the pandemic has given everyone a chance to re-evaluate their priorities. Helen Weisinger, who has been an integral member of non-profit organisation WACL since 2012, observes that spending more time at home, if desired, “can only be a good thing for men too, which ultimately benefits gender parity.”
While discussing how work culture can be empowering to women, a few words cropped up again and again - open, community, flexible, supportive, and vulnerable. Tamara Lover observes that “a level of vulnerability in a senior leader is important in creating a positive, open culture.” Would this have been possible if we hadn’t spent the last twelve months peeking inside people’s kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms through a Zoom link? The pandemic blurred the lines between personal and professional, health and illness, and the responsibilities we all hold outside of the workplace.
Creating an empowering culture rests on leaders, according to Sue Tait. She says leaders need “the empathy to recognise and understand what people are going through. To see their struggles, provide support, all the while encouraging and giving access to equal opportunities that allow people to move forward in their career.” Helen wants to see continued openness and honesty in a working environment: “If people know your whole life, rather than bits, then they can understand it better and try to work with that. It’s certainly encouraged at Tag.”
Andria’s title of CEO could be supplemented by another one – “chief helper,” and that’s only a half joke. When she joined Tag in January 2020, she had just two short months of in-person contact before the switch to digital. Nevertheless, it didn’t deter her from making the kind changes she knew would facilitate a better working environment for all involved. Andria says: “I always try to enable everyone to feel that they’re part of a community at work, that they have an equal voice, and I do that by facilitating a non-hierarchical culture. If you can make everyone feel safe, then everyone can realise their potential. It also builds a business where people are loyal to one another, a community that has energy and resilience to weather the unexpected – it makes everyone a little bit stronger, because they have more things to lean on.”
Talking about change and making change happen are not the same thing. What Tag has done, after Andria’s vision, was implement a robust plan to ensure that the inspirational words were supported by action. Sue saw it happen: “A vision for a culture change was stated, the next steps mapped out, and a plan drawn out for how to hit every step. That’s how you start to affect the culture – not just by saying the right words at the start of the year. It has to be a process, with the right support in place, with tangible objectives and milestones to achieve.”
Everyone we spoke to said they’re happy to see the end of presenteeism. “Focus on output rather than just being present. We have an opportunity to stop wasting time commuting, if we want or need it,” offers Andria. Sue agrees, adding that “It’s a little bit outdated now, the idea that you need to be really visible. It’s more about your work and ensuring good communication practices are in place, so the work gets recognised.” She adds that managers need to do their bit when it comes to “calling out wins and successes regularly, not just the big ones, but as importantly the little ones, as it’ll help to build women’s confidence, especially as they feel less able to shout about their achievements.”
More needs to be done to combat the “impostor syndrome that tends to live large in women. We need to build that confidence with processes as well as role models,” says Helen. Tamara wants the next generation of women leaders to get as much training on the soft skills as they do on hard ones to help manage difficult situations. “A lot of companies assume that if someone is excelling at the hard skills, that soft skills come naturally. However, dealing with conflict or supporting employees is something you can train for in the same way as writing a great PowerPoint deck.”
Role Models and Representation
Representation is often the first hurdle to overcome for the women looking to rise through the ranks. “For the first half of my career, it was rare to see a woman in a senior leadership position. There were always tonnes of women in the advertising industry. But once you got up to the senior management level, it was quite rare to see yourself represented.” Tamara’s sentiments were quickly echoed by everyone else.
Sue, who started in physical print design (describing the industry as “quite misogynistic with old school opinions” at the beginning of her career), says: “It would have been great for me to have mentors at work who looked like me to look up to back then; it just wasn’t the done thing to have women in print manufacturing.” She does add that things have changed and the kind of attitudes she once encountered are far rarer now. She adds: “My experience made me very aware that I had a part to play in helping the next generation of women joining the industry, so they wouldn’t have to struggle finding someone to support and encourage them.”
Mentioning the “unconscious bias of recruitment”, Andria is very aware of how easily echo chambers are built and perpetuated by those in power, as sometimes it’s the most comfortable avenue to pursue, especially “when businesses are under stress.” That’s not good enough for Andria who is in favour of “balancing, changing, and shaking things up” to ensure that she’s “recruiting for the team, not for the role”, which helps with overcoming preconceptions of what kind of person fits certain job titles. Helen has seen the benefits of this hiring practice first hand, describing the teams at Tag as “inclusive, with a very good balance of skills, which hasn’t happened by accident – it was purposefully driven and with great outcomes.”
Tamara says that “having women in senior leadership positions shows young women a path on how to get there, a possibility. When I grew up, I thought in order to be successful in a company, I had to be a man.” Tamara, together with Helen and Sue, are part of Tag’s ongoing EMEA mentorship programme while Andria mentors in another region; the programme looks to empower and inspire the next generation of talent at Tag. Diversity and inclusion have long been at the heart of what Tag does, like the dedicated Diversity and Inclusion Council of employees who focus on a programme of events and discussion dedicated to enacting positive change at the company and the industry at large.
Looking to The Future
“The advertising industry has continually evolved and changed, and it continues to change,” says Tamara with a positive outlook on the future of what’s to come. Andria adds that “in the marketing and creative sectors people are our differentiators in many ways, because their skills and talent create the specialness and magic.”
To foster a culture that’s empowering to women, the industry needs to take a step back and look at its culture at large. The conversation needs to consider every person with an individualistic lens, while leaving behind outdated ideas of gender roles, caregiving, and life outside of work. It needs to “recognise that different people, no matter the gender, are at different life stages, facing different challenges, and will therefore require different support mechanisms,” summarises Andria.
Finally, Tamara has some advice to the next generation of women leaders: “Join the industry, but don’t accept the status quo. There will always be people comfortable with keeping things the way they are. Challenge, push, and innovate instead.”