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Women in agencies: still far from equity

Women in agencies: still far from equity


Pour la Journée internationale des femmes, j’ai consulté des tonnes de rapports, discuté avec de nombreuses femmes en agence, dont mes collègues, dans le but d’animer une discussion où l’ensemble de mes collègues, femmes et hommes, se sont posé des questions sur la place des femmes en agences.

For international women’s day, I went through countless reports, discussed with many women in agencies, including my colleagues, in the hopes of leading a discussion where every co-worker, women and men, questioned themselves on the place of women within agencies.

Even if it was not official yet, the first-ever international women’s day was celebrated on February 28, 1909, in the United States of America, to give feminism debate a push, especially in Europe and North America. It was only in 1977 that the United Nations officialized the date by inviting every other country to follow.

Different challenges, but not least important, 30 years later.

30 years ago, Françoise Giroud said in an interview for Le Monde:

” The woman will only be truly the equal of man the day when, in an important position, we’ll appoint an incompetent woman.”

When I shared this comment with my colleagues over lunch, I must admit my legs were shaking a bit under the table. I was thinking of coming off too strong. But it was not the case, after all. Everyone agreed that was indeed a powerful message… and is still, unfortunately, so true. In 2020, on this women’s right dedicated day, everything we can do to make them feel better and feel equal to their masculine counterparts is still relevant and vital.

Remember that the Global Gender Gap 2017 annual report, the men-women parity should be attainable in 216 years if we keep progressing at the same rhythm.

It is thanks to this reason and many more that several feminine empowerment movements came to life, including in Quebec.

Whether we call ourselves feminists, allies, progressists or nothing at all, we can’t deny the fact that discrimination based on sex is still a thing.

The agency’s world is no exception. Here’s the rundown.

Lots of women, but not in creative direction

“In a creative field, you want to have as many different people around the table if you want to value diversity and variety. Having only men debating ideas makes every idea merge into one direction, and it doesn’t serve creativity.”

François-Olivier Thibault, Creative director

In 2012, when the 3% movement was giving its first-ever conference in San Francisco, only 3% of all creative directors’ positions were occupied by women. In 2017, the percentage increased to 11%, which is still so far from the 50% we all wish we could attain.

“We have to speak up. It is not for others, but for us, we need to move forward. We do not need to wait for anyone.”

Sonya Bacon, general director at Kabane.

When I asked a particular women that accumulated experience within the agencies world, at Publicis, Bleublancrouge, Sid Lee, TAXI and Cossette, what she would advise to the up and coming women in agency, she did not hesitate to respond that they needed to stand their ground… because she had herself been discriminated since she was quieter, more subtle than other masculine co-workers. And she is not the only one.

Softs skills that work for and against women

Softs skills, which we often call soft competence, are essential in any company. Even more so in crucial roles. Like in any customer-service team.

“We often say that women hired in team management or customer service are far more organized than men. I think it’s easier for a woman to access this department and grow within the business because of her soft skills. But customer-service is not less important than the creative department. It’s fundamental to any agency that wants to stand out.”

Sonya Bacon, general director at Kabane or at Kabane

A 2015 economic study on the communication and marketing industry in Quebec, which was published by A2C, revealed that consulting services represented around 83,5 % of women, while the general direction of agencies was 77,4 % men constituted. And when Maïté Belmir went through the 67 agencies directory to write her article in 2018, she observed that only 13 of 67 agencies had a woman at the head of the company. It is not much.

No correlation is exact, but a lot of small things can explain this tiny proportion. Starting with the difficulty that many women have to speak up in a big group. As if they were self-censoring themselves.

“Being a woman around a table full of men makes it even harder to vocalize our thoughts.”

Élisa Sabatié, Project manager

… even when it’s time to apply for a job

If we hesitate to move forward and speak up in a team meeting, Julie explains that it’s the same when it comes to applying for a job offer.

The Harvard Business Review examined the question by publishing an article in which the journalist was trying to understand why men felt more confident when it comes to applying for a job when they only reached 60% of the qualifications, while women were waiting to have 100% of the asked requirements.

The reasons why women are more conservatives than men are numerous and the correlations, false. At Republik, we agreed that it was many small things that stopped women from taking the place they felt they deserved.

“We teach women princess stories, princesses that need to be rescued by a man, and to boys, superheroes story. It’s not that big of a deal. But when you put everything together, all the small childhood differences, it becomes quite problematic.”

Julie de la Rocq, Graphic designer

How do we provoke a change?

Yes. That is the question we keep asking ourselves and that we’ll continue to ask… because it is more than necessary. The agency’s world still has a long way to go. Still, it would not be accurate to think no amount of effort is made on an everyday basis- with emerging women reunification, and any political parity statement addressed in many compagnies, or even imposed quotas within administrative boards.

But all of this is greater than the equality principle. Sometimes you have to go for it if you want to make changes happen, like saying that at equal competence, we would prioritize a woman’s application over a man’s.

“We need space to give this chance to women. And that is true for women, but also other minorities. We have to give the world that chance. If not, it’ll never happen.”

Katy Ribeiro, Project manager

Thanks to my woman’s colleagues for their time, their support, and the vibe they give off regularly.

Thanks to all my superior, who agreed to publish this article.

Thanks to all my man’s co-workers for listening to us and, most importantly, for understanding.

Thanks to Sonya Bacon for being a constant model.

Thanks to all the women in the industry, the ones I met and the ones I am still discovering.

Resources to help women take up more space

On a larger scale, thanks to all these groups that are working hard so that women request the place they deserve. Here are a few:

Femmes en créa;
La bourse Madeleine Saint-Jacques;
L’effet A;
Les femmes tournent;
Free the work;
La Fédération des femmes du Québec;
Le 3 % Movement;
Le Réseau des Femmes d’affaires du Québec (RFAQ).