We’re lucky here at McDonald Butler. Apart from having a dynamic team of bright minds, committed hearts and barrels filled with laughter, we have close to a perfectly gender balanced office. Of the 30 strong that make up our permanent staff, 14 are female and 16 are male.
We have a male managing director, balanced by a female CEO. A male chief creative director balanced by a female COO.
We didn’t get to a gender balanced office by accident, however, we didn’t actively mandate it either. Instead, we put our trust in our leadership team and tasked them with truly putting together the very best teams they could.
When you’re in the advertising business, you’re only ever as good as the ideas and campaigns you come up with, and those ideas and campaigns are only ever as good as the people developing them. Having the right team means having a diverse team.
With a great mix of male and female leaders, and in celebration of our wonderful team, we took two rising young stars (one male, one female) and encouraged them to talk gender balance with their line managers (again, one male, one female). What follows is a redacted transcript of two very fruitful conversations. Conducted in interview format, our rising stars had the opportunity to sit with their line managers and ask what it means to them to strive towards a gender balanced world.
Josh Turbill (Digital and Social Director), interviewed by Chelsea Stanford (Digital Marketing Executive)
Chelsea: What’s does a gender balanced world mean to you?
Josh: It’s a tough question, and one that often gets overly politicised. I think everyone understands that it’s important we have a more balanced world, especially in the workplace. From my perspective, it makes good sense to have a diverse team, and I’ve been fortunate enough to always be in businesses where the gender balance was close to equal.
Chelsea: Do you think that’s a generational outcome? You’ve worked in quite young vibrant agencies. Does that make a difference?
Josh: Yes, I think it does. Like I said, I feel very privileged that in the places I’ve worked at, I haven’t witnessed a gender gap. Is that something that can be scaled up to the industry as a whole? I’m not sure, but in my last company, for example, our board was 60% female. And the office had people from all walks of life.
From a generational perspective, I also think you’re right. For example, working in digital, you’re always around web developers. I remember when I was first starting out that most web developers were male. I can’t say for certain, but it seems to me that this was due to the fact that back in the day when web development was a brand-new technology it was usually practiced by tech-obsessed males in their dorm rooms. You’d also find that they would ringfence the knowledge so they could dominate the market.
Today, however, every one of us is born with a phone in our hands. We’re all digital natives, as they say. Technology has been democratised and that’s seen a lot more women coming into the field. I think it’s great personally, and in the next few years we’ll see a lot more women coding and working in fields that up until now have been thought of as ‘traditionally male.’
Chelsea: We’re clearly heading in the right direction, but do you think there’s more we can do?
Josh: We can always do more. And every generation will have its struggles and will also have to rediscover the will and courage to fight for equality.
I think one of the best things we can do is call out sexism when we see it. One example that really springs to mind is when female footballer Ada Hegerber, winner of the Ballon D’Or, was asked if she knew how to twerk while accepting her award. That is something that no one would even think to ask a male footballer. Or a male of any profession, so why does anybody think it’s acceptable to ask this of a professional woman?
Chelsea: Yes, couldn’t agree more, it’s terrible that anyone would think this appropriate behaviour, yet I think what you’re also saying is that while it’s awful that it happened, it’s also great that most of us immediately recognised it as a problem and called it out immediately.
Josh: Exactly. We can’t control what people think, and unfortunately, I think there will always be those among us that think this type of behaviour is appropriate. What we can do, however, is make sure they understand that we won’t stand for it.
Miriam Kidane (Account Director), interviewed by Stefan Vallance (Account Executive)
Stefan: Miriam, what does a gender balanced world mean to you?
Miriam: I think there’s a common assumption that men are more assertive, risk taking and aggressive than women are and that women are more reserved, compassionate and forgiving. For me, I’d like to see a world where we stop assigning certain personality traits to men and women and focus rather on people as individuals. Being assertive and “aggressive” work in certain situations, as do being compassionate and forgiving.
Stefan: I agree, my previous boss was a man, but I found him to be so compassionate and I really felt like he listened to me. I felt like that allowed for us to be more honest with one another. Likewise, with you, I feel like I can be really open about what I want for my career, what I’m struggling with and what I want to do better at. This is a great quality to have, regardless of whether you’re male or female.
Miriam: Exactly. And I think one of the best things for me professionally has been realising this. Understanding that I can be both assertive and compassionate. Aggressive and forgiving.
I like the fact that we’re challenging what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. It means we’re focusing more on what it means to be a better person; regardless of gender.
We need to focus on building each other up – all of us. Men and women together. I’ve been to a lot of conferences and discussions that talk about the benefits of being inclusive and having a diverse workplace. And it’s not just gender. It’s everything. From socio-economic balances to ethnicity and race. We have to balance for the better across race, gender, religion. Because at the end of the day, we’re all just people and all of us share the same world. Our world.
Stefan: Do you think gender balance is improving and have you felt a change in the way you’re treated in the workplace?
Miriam: I’ve been quite lucky because I’ve worked with a lot of women and most of them were in leadership positions. Here at McDonald Butler, for example, we have Maeve and Nadja, who are two of the most inspirational women I know. They’re exceptionally good at what they do and they really work hard to drive the business in a commercially savvy direction.
I think most of it for me has been internal. It’s been about building up my confidence. I was quite shy as a teenager and the best thing that happened to me was getting a job at Subway as a sandwich artist. It forced be to get out of my bubble and related to a whole variety of different people, all from different backgrounds, ethnicities and age groups.
Stefan: Does what you learnt there carry to what you do now?
Miriam: I think so, part of my job now is working with a wide range of individuals. From very senior stakeholders in massive tech companies to incredibly niche individuals that work programme architecture and data builds. Being able to extract the relevant information from these people and assemble the perfect team to meet their needs is difficult, but also so much fun.
Obviously taking someone’s sandwich order is different to building out a marketing programme for some of the world’s biggest tech companies, however, being able to relate to people and listening to them, really listening, is something that’s universal.
Stefan: What’s one piece of advice you would give an executive starting out, male or female
Miriam: Ask questions and learn to listen. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter. All of us need to work together to make this world a better place. Listening to those around you is one of the best things you can do, because you start to realise that everybody is going on their own journey and facing their own struggles and challenges. All of us are different and work in different ways, but all of us have similar goals as well. We want to be successful, have good friends and family, and belong to a community that makes us feel welcomed, safe and valued.
There’s more that brings us together than divides us.