We’ve still got a problem with diversity

(Originally posted to LinkedIn)

I first heard the phrase ‘pattern recognition’ at SXSW this year. Jennifer Hyman, co-founder of Rent the Runway, was on a panel about the future of retail, and they were discussing whether the airbnb concept would have been funded if it had been pitched by a woman.

While I’m not convinced that’s the best example to show that there’s favouritism in the start-up world, I do fully support the sentiment. The panel’s point was that technology businesses will continue to look at problems and growth in the same way, unless they’re considered from different points of view; age, gender, ethnicity, education – the works.

This is a fundamental point. The PR industry has a problem with diversity, and while I can only speak from experience about gender, the fact remains that if you only consider things from one point of view, no matter how hard you try to put yourself in the shoes of others, you will only ever end up with that single point of view.

While not every woman out there can hold their hand up and say that they’ve had their career limited by their gender (though that in no way detracts from the fact that many can), when you look at the facts, we simply don’t have enough females in leadership positions.

Women make up 70% of the PR workforce, they hold only 30% of senior positions at director level or above. This is not a ‘women are better than men’ point, this is about introducing variation in approach, viewpoint and therefore work.

We as an industry have more responsibility to show these different viewpoints than ever. Director of Brand Strategy at Lions Festivals, Senta Slingerland, talks about the influence that advertising and communications has on shaping the world we live in, and that being the driver for an increased presence of women in Cannes Lions schedule this year.

During our session with Dazed co-founder Jefferson Hack, and actress & director, Samantha Morton, we opened the Female Firsts fund. This is the next stage of an existing programme, which takes it from celebration through to action. We’ll award a number of female directors with the funding and mentorship they need to make their projects a reality.

Sam spoke about empathy; and that stuck with me. In her world, a female director can draw out a performance through shared understanding. Playing this out in a brand context, the same is true. Whether you choose to take a more practical view (that people are making purchasing decisions based on purpose, and social good), or a softer one (that the communications industry has a responsibility to present a more balanced view of society) – the issue is very hard to ignore.

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