Women in Content
Although most people imagine it to be a recent innovation, the roots of International Women’s Day run as far back as an event in New York in 1909. That was when a group of female activists in the garment manufacture industry strove to show their employers that they deserved the same rights and pay as their male counterparts.
The world has moved on since then, but there’s clear evidence that women are still battling to achieve equality in the workplace. And this includes the media too. For example, even an employer that many would imagine being as liberal and benign as the BBC is struggling to initiate equal pay for its key execs and talent.
The #metoo phenomenon has also underlined once again the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, while even in some western liberal democracies women’s rights are under threat from populist governments.
What though of our own industry – the world of content marketing. Do any of the challenges that women face in other industries apply to our own?
For our next Content Breakfast – held on March 20th – get your tickets here – we have lined up a fantastic panel to address some of these issues, looking in depth at the role of women in the content industry. We will also be considering how targeting women is different to targeting men and how men can work better when running female-focused product accounts.
Perhaps the biggest issue the event will examine is around nurturing female editorial talent?
One of the presenters at the event, Rowan Morrison, Group Managing Director of financial services content agency Editions Financial, argues that flexibility in the workplace is the answer. She has a seven-point plan that she believes will not only help nurture female talent but will also provide an environment conducive for their male colleagues too.
Rowan says “Businesses without the following will struggle to nurture female talent full-stop, editorial or otherwise: 1. A well-communicated and robust flexible working policy, including the potential for home working (particularly true for nurturing editorial talent); 2. Understanding that a motivated woman working three days is likely to provide five days’ worth of value in that time; 3. Meaningful and again well-communicated development opportunities; 4. Peer to peer support – including male colleagues; 5. Mentoring – to the point of direct encouragement for those women with potential and lacking confidence – just because someone isn’t shouting about their abilities doesn’t mean they don’t have them; 6. Recognition that technical skill is less important than intelligence and drive – the former can be gained with focused training/experience; 7. Recognition that with age comes experience and knowledge and that is becoming at a premium in marketing. I’d also like to see a more progressive approach to Paternity Leave, as this supports both women and men at work.”
Another speaker at the event Danni Spencer who is Group Head of Creative at Bridge Studio which is part of News UK, thinks that women have an important role to play in securing the success of other women in the industry via mentoring.
“Being a mentor and having a mentor yourself is a great way of supporting other women coming through the ranks,” she argues. “Often women tend to only apply for a role if they fulfil all of the criteria whereas men are generally more confident in going for roles that they can grow into, so having someone in your corner championing you and giving you a nudge can make all the difference.”
Sharon Flaherty, the Managing Director of BrandContent (winner of the CMA’s best small content agency at last years International Content Marketing Awards) and also a presenter at the event adds that she believes that “how you nurture talent is personality dependent not gender dependent in my opinion and it’s important to recognise that.”
She then goes on to argue that she sees one of the key ways in which women can work together is by encouraging each other to go outside their comfort zones.
“If I think about how I specifically work with women in our company then my support may focus more on encouraging them to go beyond their comfort zone. In particular, doing their own thought-leadership and applying for personal awards and getting them to stand tall and put themselves out there. I believe so much in nurturing a team and helping them reach their potential. It’s rewarding for them, you and the business.”
It is a lesson that Sharon has had to learn through experience. “A career of having poor managers made me learn how not to manage and it didn’t equip me with the skills to manage well, so I sought out my own coach and it has transformed how I work with my team. We can always learn and should always be learning so we give the best to the people we are responsible for.”
Nurturing talent is one thing, but this is less effective if there is a so called glass ceiling in the industry which stops women from reaching the same levels as their male counterparts. So how is the content industry doing?
Rowan argues “I feel content is perhaps a little better than advertising/media, but there’s work to be done… Also, there’s a problem with Creative Director roles in agencies being dominated by men.”
Sharon acknowledges that she doesn’t have the figures to hand, but she believes that flexible working is the key to ensuring a fair playing field
“I know a lot of women in senior management positions in content companies but I’m not sure how females benchmark statistically against men in terms of numbers in our industry. I’d be interested to see the statistics in the performance of content agencies run by men versus women but maybe that’s just me being competitive… As a country we know that when women take time off to have children, it does impact their career and it’s no different in our industry, but creative solutions mean everyone wins. There is an agency I know which is run by two female MDs who job share. I love this because of the flexibility and it’s one of the things more businesses need to do. We have a really flexible culture at BrandContent; we saw amazing female talent leaving other agencies because they could not get flexible hours to suit childcare. What was their loss became our gain because we designed flexible working policies so we could grab this talent and they are very loyal in return.”
Sharon also adds that personal branding can prove to be pivotal in career development, not just for women, but men too.
“I am a big believer in personal branding. It takes confidence to put yourself out there and you need to be willing to be challenged but the way I look at it is ‘what’s the worst thing that can happen’? There is a caveat though; you can’t be talking nonsense or paying lip service. You have to be credible. Our industry (marketing) is filled with people who are really great at personal branding and selling themselves but when you scratch below the surface, you may be disappointed. The golden rules when it comes to pushing your brand is to be credible and knowledgeable. When it comes to nurturing talent, helping them build their personal brand is really important. It’s a big push for us at BrandContent. Once you get your team to push their personal brand and get beyond the initial cringe factor, they enjoy it and they begin to love their work even more and where they work.”
It’s a perspective that Danni alludes to when she says, “one of the key areas for women in our industry is visibility. Wacl ran a session back in 1924 called where are all the women in advertising? One attendee described women as the “power behind the throne”, holding key roles but hidden from view. It’s a session you could argue that still resonates today.”
She does, however, add that there may be many reasons why there are fewer women in executive positions than men and that society needs to address all of them
“In addition to visibility there’s a whole multitude of reasons why there’s a lack of women in senior positions; from unconscious bias in recruitment, to the slow uptake in shared parental leave, meaning women are the still the primary caregiver.”
Finally, we asked our panel to give a good recent example of a brand or media company that targets women in a way that you feel is progressive?
Rowan highlighted The Run Like A Girl campaign from Always which she argues was “spot on – not patronising, not tokenistic, genuinely meaningful on many levels.”
“Tokenism and patronisation are unfortunately rather rife in a number of sectors. The 3% Movement and related conference in the US is fantastic, and it includes men in the conversation, which I feel is crucial.”