Are there enough women in advertising?

Last night was the Golden Stiletto Awards, an annual award for women in the advertising & digital space to celebrate female creativity.

The awards are part of a growing organisation called ‘She Says’ set up by Alessandra Lariu and Laura Jordan Bambach (LBi). It now has members in London, Holland, America, Canada, Australia, South America and many more places.

She Says run free mentorship and networking events to over 3000 women in the creative business. Why? Because they want to see more women at the top, which raises the question, why aren’t their more women up top?

PR has always had a higher than average percentage of women, but by contrast, ad agency creative departments have on average 85% men, ironic given that 85% of consumer spend is by women. Digital agencies seem to have a higher level of women but design is more male dominated.

It’s not true to say that women haven’t made it to the top in both creative and account direction, there are a good few women but in the ad agency world there are not a lot of ECDs/CDs compared to men.

A quick look through an old copy of FileFX* reveals: Rosie Arnold, Tiger Savage, Kate Stanners, Victoria Gallardo, Kiki Kendrick, Anita Davis, Pam Mason, Joanna Perry, Karen Ellis, Martina Langer, Christine Turner, Emma DeLa Fosse, Liz Gilmore, Christine Jones,  Charity Charity, Nocola Jackson – which is not  a lot. (You should note a few women CDs just work on beauty accounts.) Some big ad agencies have no female CDs at all.

Add to the list DM, SP and digital agencies and I estimate they make up about 5% of CDs/ECDs.

One big question is, are women creatives different from male ones? In my experience, and I’ve employed over 100 creatives over the years as a CD, yes. Women are less ego centric for a start. More sensitive. They get women and men consumers, while most men just get men only. I would say there is NO difference in quality of ideas and imagination of craft skills, but in our business being able to emotional engage consumers is critical to great and effective ads. Ok, that’s just my experience, but there’s a lot of science fact that supports a difference in the way the male and female minds work that would suggest women make better ad creative. (Check out Why Women Shop on Venus and Men Shop on Mars link below).

With only one ad agency claiming a 50:50 employment ethos (in creative) is it time the industry made a real effort to address the balance? Especially as women are key consumers, and taking over many areas like finance.

Equality is something lacking in our industry, yet many other industries have been addressing this for decades.

Some may argue, the reason there are less women is because it attracts less women. Would that be because most creative departments are full of beer drinking, football loving alpha males?

Or as one friend put it, “women are smarter, they get out early”.

To quote SheSay’s website, “The world is pretty much half men, half women, so why are there hardly any women doing top jobs at agencies?” Whatever the reason, there’s a desperate need to readdress the balance if we as an industry want to be able to keep up with the times. Lets start by openly discussing it and maybe big agencies should tell us what their hiring policy is, while the trade bodies should raise it higher up their agenda.


All you want to know about female consumers, facts, data and insights:

(* this information may not be up to date and sorry if your name was missed off.)


    Advertising creative dpts are often one big boys locker rooms, so not a nice place for women to work. Given the large number of men it’s no wonder many big agencies churn out patronising ads that reduce women to bimbos talking about yogurt/ryvita/toilet paper/soap powder/cereals around a kitchen table. Sorry, but I agree, women understand women better in the market place. Men just like knob gags. Take that women’s razor ads where they are cutting bushes in a garden – get the pun?!


    Let’s ask the top 10 agencies why they don’t have more women at the top.
    Point to note here, advertising’s main newspaper has a woman editor, Claire Beale.

  • Chris Arnold


  • Chris Arnold

    Big agencies are happy to hire a female CD on a ‘vanity’ product like hair spray, shampoo, anti-aging stuff, but think it doesn’t matter for all the stuff sold in supermarkets. Which highlights one of the issues. And now that women are taking over most of the financial household purchasing, why is that different?

  • Gail Parminter

    Couldn’t agree more – and you’re right about the women being put on the girly briefs – although I did my best work on “male” brands – winning Campaign Press and Poster awards for Mini. I have some theories as to why adland is so male dominated … it’s a bit like the world of comedy – men like to be the funny ones – they like women to admire them for their wit and creativity – not outdo them. Advertising awards are often willy waving festivals.


    Fascinating topic.  The biggest and arguably the most successful (they won Effectiveness agency of the year last week) creative agency group (AMV) has a female Chairman and CEO.  The largest media agency (MediaCom) has a female Chairman and CEO. 

    The problem in creative depts is cultural and self-perpetuating; mirror image employment practice and creative awards judged by mostly male juries means that the prevailing creative ethic is male.  I think the IPA is trying to change this by ensuring that even creative managers have to go on management courses which will help the recruitment aspect. 

    The cultural thing is wider than just our industry.  Women enjoy confrontation and abuse even less than men do and are less equipped to handle it.  Creativity in advertising is subject to aggressive denigration within the agency and in journalism.  No planner or account director suffers as much public ridicule.  Maybe it’s time to be more courteous to creatives; Steve Henry called for the end of Turkey of the week in Campaign.  That would be a start.

    • richsutcliffe

      Slightly off topic, but Tess, seriously? Do you think journalists not being allowed to offer an opinion helps anything? Do you think if we see what we believe to be a terrible ad we should keep quiet? Presumably, for the sake of balance, if we see great work we should be equally mute?

      And to bring it back on topic, how the trade press reports the output of agencies, or any of the other companies it tracks, from a creative or financial perspective, has zero to do with the imbalance or not in the gender of its constituent employees, nor would it help to take such a thing into account.

      If we are permitted to voice an opinion, you know, just like the rest of the world is and does, are we to treat female creatives with kid gloves while hammering males ‘because they can take it’? Part of our role is to champion the industry, but we are also here to hold it to account – that means pointing out the bad as well as the good regardless of who happens to be responsible.

      • TESS ALPS

        Not that seriously, Rich.  I did say ‘maybe’.  Certainly don’t think men and women should be treated differently.  And yes, I think it is perfectly legit for you to point out poor work along with the good, though in theory it is perfectly possible to encourage better work just by praising the good.  That’s the recommended approach with kids after all: don’t humiliate just reward.
        But I do think the manner of criticism for creative work is excessively brutal. ‘Turkey’ is a pretty strong word for something that’s the subjective view of a single journalist, don’t you think?  And I wish the criticism was based on business outcomes more often.  They also get subjected to Private View from competitors, most of whom are fair, but occasionally they can be vicious too.

        But I accept that is the nature of journalism and I have resorted to some pretty mean things myself in print.  I’m more concerned about what goes on within creative depts on a daily basis.  I can only speak second-hand but some it of sounds like it’s bordering on bullying.  Debbie Klein did some interesting research for the IPA on the topic a few years ago and the cultural aspect seemed to come out as the chief reason for the imbalance.  The intake of art colleges for instance was balanced gender-wise but after their courses fewer women chose to enter advertising and preferred industries like publishing, fashion or design because of what they feared about the culture.  

        Preparing women to accept criticism with more equanimity is beyond the duties of the advertising industry and starts in the nursery. 

        • richsutcliffe

          Though I’m starting to shift uneasily as I so often see speakers do when the mic goes round and the fear-inducing words ‘Tess Alps, Thinkbox…I’d just like to say…” ring around the room, I accept it may not always be palatable, but while your theory works well ‘in theory’, it doesn’t in practice (as in publishing practice, not workplace/home practice)

          No-one would read reams of praise without the balance of criticism. It’s not the “nature of journalism”, it’s the nature of the reader. We have for decades, centuries, taken the words of a single journalist (though I would argue printed words in a publication are very rarely a truly singular point of view) as not just acceptable criticism but valued work in its own right. Great swathes of publishing would not exist were it not so.

          I tend to think the way creative work is discussed in our titles is pretty tame by comparison to the majority. Think of the way a music mag might destroy a budding band at debut single stage, or AA Gill have a restaurant on its knees – it’s merciless. In that context I don’t really think Turkey is that bad a word at all. I can think of worse. And at least now anyone is able to comment themselves on the piece and, should they wish, pick apart the reviewer.

          That’s not to say Brand Republic, Campaign, Marketing, Media Week et al do not have a role to play in encouraging creatives, and helping to right gender imbalances. To accept Chris’s call, it’s something we would be happy to push further up our agenda and question agencies over. But I don’t think we right any imbalances simply by toning down the language used to discuss creative output.

          At which point, I’m off to encourage and reward my kid back to bed for the third time.

          • TESS ALPS

            So Rich, I think what you are saying is we give readers what they want to read whatever the consequences.  I wouldn’t know anything about that because I work in telly 😉
            And maybe it’s because I am a woman that I want everyone to be a bit nicer.  Wet and proud!

  • Darcy Mitchell

    I wrote this commenting on the subject matter:

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