Alice Weightman sits down with Bill Brock to discuss the diversity challenges facing the digital and creative industries
“This industry has a pipeline problem,” says Bill Brock, Founder of AnalogFolk, a top global digital creative agency. He is referring to the lack of women in the digital industry, an issue that, despite various initiatives and a big drive to get girls in education interested in creative careers, is still plaguing the industry. “There simply aren’t enough women being recruited into the digital industry, so that’s the first issue. Then we have women dropping out fairly early in their careers.” The reasons for this, he explains, are various but there is one immediate issue. “This industry is made up of a fascinating bunch of workaholics, finding it more difficult when you reach a point in life where it’s important to be more family orientated.”
According to Brock, this is one of the main barriers to success for women in the industry. “Even if you fix the pipeline on the way into the industry, as long as there exists a big hole in the middle that causes more women than men to leave, we haven’t achieved anything.”
One thing that makes the industry unappealing to women with families, Brock says, is the culture of working long hours. And he's right. This is something that I hear echoed regularly when I meet with senior women looking for a career change - and increasingly I'm hearing this from working fathers too. Brock continues, “We pride ourselves at AF for sustaining a sensible work/life balance. But you can’t underestimate the power of the mob. If everyone is in the office late, then you feel pressured to be there too. Even if the leader of the mob is themselves being pressured by the mob to stay later. Even if family friendly working policies are in place you have to understand that mothers and fathers are still going to feel that pressure.”
When woman are supported to take up positions in the industry, it is they themselves who can make a big impact; however, as evidenced by Brock’s first two bosses - both of whom were female and who were pivotal in shaping his views on the importance of ensuring women take their position in the workplace: “I was very lucky. I came out of school in the 90s and went to work for a company called Multimedia Resources, which was a consultancy focussing on how companies could use this big new thing called the internet. It was at the forefront of the birth of the internet in the US. The founder was Lynn Branigan, and she had been one of the key senior managers in Prodigy, the internet search provider before AOL. “I then moved to San Francisco where I got a job for another digital start-up, Red Sky Interactive. The founder Tim Smith was incredible, a true entrepreneur. The head of production was Jessica Birdman, now COO of another company in San Francisco, and my counterpart there was Deirdre McGlashan, now a Chief Digital Officer at Mediacom. “Both Red Sky and Multimedia Resources were companies that didn’t treat women and men differently, and kids were welcome in the office. So I’ve just never considered this to be anything other than commonplace.”
But Brock has since noticed that this isn’t the norm in other companies and that there are many barriers to women succeeding in the industry. However, in his opinion, there are certain things that women can do to help them overcome the barriers in their way. He says that while managing flexible working is tough, it can be done, and that good communication is key. “Sarah Margolis, Our Head of Digital Production in the UK works four days in the office and one day at home. She’s made it work by ensuring that she can be available out of hours when it’s really necessary, and ensuring that she has the same outputs as everyone else. “It’s a shared responsibility and communication is what makes it work. It’s about managing expectations and volume and productivity. It makes no difference that the contractual arrangements are different. That responsibility also needs to be for both men and women. There’s an inherent issue around men and flexible family-orientated working, so both men and women need to feel comfortable asking for it.”
A relatively young industry
Brock explains that there are problems in finding the right calibre entry-level staff, and senior managers. “Sourcing people with 8-10 years of experience in the industry is relatively easy, but there’s a lack of young talent and a lack of experienced managers. The reality is that digital just wasn’t a huge business 10 years ago so finding experience is hard. Add diversity issues in and it gets even harder. Again, the pipe is just too small.”
And whose responsibility is it to solve these diversity issues? Much responsibility must lie with the agencies themselves, Brock says and this is something AnalogFolk takes seriously. “Our business does a lot in terms of recruitment and retention efforts across the board. “You need to be proactive, you need to get to the right events, and be involved in groups that champion women in technology like Geek Girl, set up by our very own Josefine Hedlund.
We’re also proud to be a pilot agency of the Creative Equals initiative, proactively looking to drive real change within the industry. “Within our walls we’ve also implemented a huge new set of changes to our benefits package. It’s progressive and has some great incentives around medical care and maternity and paternity packages.” Brock says some agencies suffer from a historical hangover when it comes to diversity. “It’s harder to change than to grow. You look at these old historical buildings in London having renovation works and you know it would be easier to just knock it down and start again. For these behemoth agencies, it can be difficult to unwind and go back to basics.”
Culture can’t do the work for you
Agencies alone, however, cannot fix the problem. “It’s a problem in society. Schools need to do a much better job of teaching these practical skills. “We need to think differently about what you need to get into our industry too. A lot of what we do is not all that academic, so we could be fantastically diverse in terms of background. Most developers don’t need a university degree, they need to learn how to code. If you have a real passion for something you don’t necessarily need to go to university to learn about that thing, the same way that rock stars or dancers don’t.”
Overall, he says, the sector must realise that it needs to be pro-active about tackling diversity issues. “The industry has realised that we all can’t just think, well, we’re good guys, and expect our culture to do the work for us. You need to be proactive and drive people on how to behave. That’s how our industry will help attract, and retain, more women.” --
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Further reading on tackling diversity
Hanson Search teamed up with the IPA and Campaign Magazine in support of the Women of Tomorrow Awards 2016. The awards are designed to find the female leaders of the future, champion exceptional female talent, and shine a light on the staggering gender differences still prevalent in the advertising and creative industries.
Posted on 15.04.2016