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Ad agencies take baby steps to help women take up leadership roles

LiveMint logoLiveMint 07-03-2017 Saumya Tewari

New Delhi: A quick look at the top brass in Indian advertising is enough to conclude that it is still a ‘Mad Men’ world.

Although young women enter the ad agency workforce every year, the attrition rate is high due to multiple factors, including lack of work-life balance, dearth of well-defined human resource policies, family pressure and motherhood that come in the way of scaling up the leadership ladder.

Taking note of the fact a bunch of advertising agencies are working towards women-friendly policies and initiatives to ensure gender balance as well as women representation in leadership roles. This includes basic facilities such as flexible working hours, maternity benefits and drop facilities to setting up women councils to provide supportive cohort.

The idea is to develop and accelerate the careers of senior women in the advertising industry.

“We have introduced #SheHour which will be a networking platform for all women employees in an office where they can connect on various issues-sharing stories, challenges and opportunities,” said Roopa Badrinath, chief talent officer, J. Walter Thompson South Asia.

The agency has also launched a unique initiative called ‘Human Library’ this month where women can talk about and challenge stereotypes and prejudices.

JWT, which runs a Women Leadership Council, claims that 41% of its new hires in 2016 were women and 50% of their senior leadership comprises women.

The agency, at the global level, is working on an all-women internship programme to be launched this year apart from launching a returnship programme, where women on a break are encouraged to come back.

Like J.Walter Thompson, Creativeland Asia, the creative agency which has recently rolled out women empowerment United by Half campaign for Benetton India’s, prides itself in maintaining a healthy gender female to male (47:53) ratio.

“Over the last few years, we have been consciously taking steps to strengthen women-friendly initiatives—from an equal pay mandate, a healthy gender ratio to six-month maternity leave, post pregnancy incentives and one third reservation for women leaders within our senior management,” said Sajan Raj Kurup, founder and creative chairman, Creativeland Asia.

The agency, which started an investment arm, Ventureland Asia last year, will soon roll out a separate fund to promote women entrepreneurs. It has already invested in a New York-based kids clothing label, Masala Baby, led by ex-creative director of Fab India Dipali Patwa.

Ashish Bhasin, chairman and chief executive officer, South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN), said that there has to be gender sensitization in advertising agencies beyond policies and initiatives. “We have a compulsory three-month long gender sensitization programme for all our employees. Supporting and motivating women in advertising is a life-long process and needs constant commitment from agencies,” he added.

Dentsu, which launched a DAN Women Council last year, helps women at the managerial level to chalk out a full-roadmap of their careers offering support and advice from senior women leaders. The agency has many women leaders such as Rubeena Singh who heads the digital agency iProspect, Simi Sabhaney who leads Dentsu Communications and Madhu Chibber who is the chief executive of Dentsu’s PR firm, Perfect Relations.

Not just gender balance, many advertising executives feel that apart from bringing unique skill sets like intuition, high emotional quotient and better insights to work, women are also essential in ensuring that their gender is not misrepresented in ads.

“Between the men in the agencies and the client side they are deciding how a mother should look and behave and that is why you have ads where mothers are doing aerobics with kids in the kitchen. There is a clear misrepresentation of women so until and unless we have enough female workforce in the industry who is going to correct such aberration?” said Swati Bhattacharya, chief creative officer, FCB Ulka, an Interpublic Group-owned advertising agency.

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