It’s that ongoing debate that again reared its ugly head last week and, yep, it’s the dearth of female creatives among Aussie agencies. But for one of Australia’s most lauded female ECDs – Justine Armour (pictured above) – the problem’s arguably the ads themselves which for too long have been a turn-off and can often appear “hostile” to women; meaning it’s simply an industry many baulk at working in.
Armour worked as a creative for some of Australia’s top agencies in the early 2000s, including stints at McCann, Clemms, Saatchi & Saatchi and Mojo. In 2011 she shifted to the States and landed a gig at Weiden + Kennedy (widely regarded as the best agency on the planet) before moving to her current role – group creative director at New York’s 72 And Sunny.
Armour admitted she was one of the few female creatives during her decade-plus stint at the Aussie agencies but revealed to B&T her experience was primarily positive.
“I never really got asked about this until a couple of years ago, so I’ve only recently started to analyse what those years were like,” Armour revealed when questioned about being a female among the bucks.
“There were some creepy things that happened, sure, but nothing that defined my experience. If I was to make one sweeping generalisation I’d say it was a ‘boys’ club’; it was very social, and there was a lot of drinking. The pub was where the relationships that got you onto good briefs were formed, and getting good briefs meant doing good work which meant having a better time overall. So I was at the pub a lot!”
Armour, too, is quick to add that she doesn’t want to appear some sort of flag-bearer for female creatives. “I’m only talking about this because you asked me,” she’s quick to reiterate to B&T. “Most of the women I know (in the industry) are ‘cool girls’ (you can read about ‘cool girls’ here). They pride themselves on being able to hang with whoever, which can be a double-edged sword, but that’s how it works. The girls (female creatives) I know would rather talk about ideas and cool shit than focus on this.”
One of Australia’s top ECDs recently told B&T (anonymously, of course) that he reckoned adland took the hit for the gender debate when a host of other creative industries – architecture, music and scriptwriting, as examples – were equally male dominated but sans the blowtorch given to agency land. Interestingly, he added: “When the redundancies came it was always the blokes that got sacked because the agency was desperate to hang on to any female talent it had.”
But for Armour, having women creatives isn’t “an obligation, it’s a massive opportunity”.
She added: “Women are more nuanced communicators, their brains are wired and work differently, and they have a different, often hostile relationship with advertising because of the way it has treated them in the past.
“Women make 85 per cent of purchase decisions, so your clients’ consumers are women. So if you want to be really insightful and truly effective, women should be involved in creating the work that encourages women to consider your product.”
So what are the solutions to a problem, it must be said, has been ongoing for years and doesn’t appear to being showing any signs of marked improvement? For starters, Armour would like to see less talk and more female-positive policies by agencies.
There needs to be more women in senior roles so the new recruits feel they have a future in the industry, Armour said. The industry, she added, had no problems attracting females out of the universities and colleges but had enormous issues retaining them once kids arrived and other, more family-friendly careers, start to look more appealing.
Agency land’s 24/7, “always on” culture is also a massive dissuader to women, particularly those with young kids at home. “We have to create conditions where mums can compete,” Armour said. “If your clients have women’s brands and want women’s thinking, enlist their support in getting women on their business.
“Build air into your deadlines, make the process work around these women. My agency offers six months’ paid maternity leave. My previous agency offered four months’ paid leave and covered travel for carers when breastfeeding mothers needed to travel for work.
“Many agencies (in the US) also have dedicated breastfeeding/pumping rooms in the office. France has a ban on work email on weekends, after 6pm and before 9am. Those are conditions where mums can make it work. I would put policies like those in place, and let women know they can negotiate with you case-by-case so that you can find a way that works for everyone.”
Finally, should it be the clients that enact the change? Should they simply demand to see more work by more female creatives? “Sure. If they’re not asking for it, it won’t be a priority. Any client creating products for women is missing out if they don’t have insightful creative women on their business,” Armour concluded.