Women! Why we need you to start an agency
In the wake of yesterday's celebration of International Women's Day, Diana Ellis-Hill, co-founder of creative agency Be The Fox, explains how despite more women occupying C-suite leadership roles, the gender pay gap and a lack of representation is still an issue. Could more women-owned agencies be the key to real change?
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard other women in the advertising industry say that they could never start an agency, or worse, that they would love to start an agency, but don’t think they could do it.
It’s understandable. We have a huge trust and confidence problem. We aren’t trusted to do the work as well as men, so we lose confidence.
The world tells us we can’t do it. And then when we go against the odds and do it, we often realise that our lives aren’t set up to be able to throw the hours at the work that men can.
We still have more caring responsibilities and emotional load than men, and running an agency takes a huge time commitment. But it CAN be done, and the rewards are huge - not only for the owners. I believe the key to meeting equality targets in our industry is having more women-owned agencies.
Previous stats by the 4A’s showed that women-owned agencies were under 1 per cent. We are in the vast minority, drastically underrepresented.
My co-founder Megan Price and I have been processing the latest statistics from the IPA’s recent agency census on the gender pay gap, particularly in creative agencies. The number of women in C-suite leadership roles is thankfully increasing, yet women are still not paid the same as men, so we can only take from that that women are doing more for less. It is still unclear how many agencies are owned by women.
Previous stats by the 4A’s showed that women-owned agencies were under 1%. We are in the vast minority, drastically underrepresented.
To make real progress towards equality, women need to be in charge of the money more often. In charge of profit re-investment, of pay levels, of hiring of the senior management team and of policy implementation.
Above: We can often unable to throw the hours at the work that men can, due to caring and emotional responsibilities.
The barriers to entry are obvious. There are two main routes to starting an agency 1) be a successful person in the industry with a large number of awards, connections, and clients to your name and take all of that with you. 2) start as a freelancer who generates more work than they can handle and then start hiring other people to do it with you.
The stats are clear that investing in women-led businesses pays great returns. Though it is rare.
The first route requires you to first reach the top of the agency ladder – a place women face a struggle to get to.. The second requires a leap of faith: that you will not become overwhelmed by the number of projects and people to manage - often sacrificing the flexibility of time that freelancing gives your work-life balance. You will move away from the work too. You will spend more time managing than doing, and many women, more often than men, don’t see themselves as leaders.
It’s incredibly heartening to see the new women-led studio WMN founded by Crispin Porter + Bogusky European chief executive Helen James, which will sit as part of CPB London. It is a massive achievement and vote of confidence from the industry. Having agency group investment and support provides a huge springboard to start ups. The stats are clear that investing in women-led businesses pays great returns. Though it is rare.
Above: Route one to starting your own agency requires you to first reach the top of the agency ladder.
According to the European Investment bank, female-founded companies receive less than half of the investment capital of their male peers but deliver twice as much revenue per dollar invested. The stats are prevailing against the status quo and some venture capital companies are starting to invest in start-ups only if there is diversity within the leadership team.
We were happy that we were the agents of our own destiny.
Our agency, Be The Fox, started life as a commercial production company. We were two ex-BBC TV producer directors who, seeing an opportunity, were ambitious to take our skills to a new industry. We had a handful of contacts, but had to build up a loyal list of clients job by job. We knew nothing about commercial production but we worked it out project by project.
We were having fun creating work we were proud of, but most importantly we were in control, self-generating our own income and after a while, the incomes of many others.
We were happy that we were the agents of our own destiny.
We work in two male-dominated spaces, in advertising and in film production. We are striving to redress the gender balance here both behind and in front of the camera.
More women need to be in control of the money. Of the hiring and partnership agreements. Of the rosters and benefit allowances. Of the scripts and internships. We need more women to own agencies and generate huge benefits for themselves and others.
Sometimes I think the most feminist thing we can do is own an agency.
My co-founder Meg turned to me yesterday and said, "You know, sometimes I think the most feminist thing we can do is own an agency." It is not easy. The odds are stacked against us and the other women-owned agencies of the world, but we hope to see many more start up and thrive, because companies with a diverse perspective are 70 per cent more likely to capture new markets.
This is a rallying cry to lift up other women in business, support women-led agencies and ultimately identify who is truly in control of the money – because that is the true test of whether you are supporting diversity.