How can we tackle the gender imbalance in the marcoms industry?

Take our Gender Balance Survey There are many good reasons to work in communications and marketing, but they can also be some of the least flexible and family-friendly industries to work in. Clients often expect you to be available to them at all hours and employers often can’t, won’t or don’t know how to protect you against it. It’s a competitive industry, so it can be difficult to change expectations to allow for more flexible working, but is this good for Britain? We have low unemployment and we work long hours, but we are terribly unproductive according to data from the ONS. The lack of flexibility is a challenge for many of us who care about our responsibilities outside of work - especially for working parents and more specifically working mums. Employers seem to realise there's a need for more flexible working, but this is not translating into practice and the gender imbalance among senior ranks in the industry is still prevalent. We cannot risk losing so many highly skilled mums every year due to workplace discrimination. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) commissioned a study to investigate the prevalence and nature of pregnancy discrimination and disadvantage in the workplace. The majority of employers reported that it was in their interests to support pregnant women and those on maternity leave and they agreed that statutory rights relating to pregnancy and maternity are reasonable and easy to implement. However, the research found that:

  • 10% of women said they were treated worse by their employer after returning to work after having a baby
  • 20% – as many as 100,000 mothers a year – experienced harassment or negative comments from colleagues, employer or manager when pregnant or returning from maternity leave
  • 7% said they were put under pressure to hand in their notice
  • One in 20 reported receiving a cut in pay or bonus after returning to their job.

Some mothers were given the chance to work flexibly, but even then around half reported that their opportunities were cut and their opinions were less valued. Hanson Search also commissioned a gender balance study in 2012 to gain insight into the impact of maternity leave on the communications and marketing industry. The report highlighted the clear need for change within the industry and for honest and open conversations about how to balance the requirements of businesses against the needs of the employee. We need practical solutions to inspire employers and employees to drive positive organisational change to address these persistent problems. Following a strategy discussion with senior industry leaders to do just that, we developed a Code of Best Practice which recommended:

  • Creating the right company culture – encouraging transparency and openness to drive discussion and re-establish core job priorities.
  • Taking responsibility – creating a two-way fairness policy that is honest and realistic about future plans.
  • Devising a maternity comeback framework – employees taking responsibility for creating a framework structure which details measureable deliverables and output.
  • Reappraising the legal situation – distinguishing reality from myth when it comes to maternity rights.

A lot has changed since we ran our first survey, but as this new EHCR report indicates it appears that it has not all changed for the better. We need more employers to take up our Code of Best Practice - or devise their own - because the gender imbalance is not good for anyone - especially not business. We are re-running our gender balance study to get a better understanding of what still needs to change to achieve greater gender equality, and we need to hear from you. Please take five minutes to complete our survey.  

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Author: Sally Lutzen

Sally graduated from New York University and started her career in Manhattan before relocating to London in 2013. As head of marketing, she leads on all marketing and communications across the global business

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