“Many Key Decision Makers Are Still White Men” – Is The Creative Department Still A Boy’s Club?

“Many Key Decision Makers Are Still White Men” – Is The Creative Department Still A Boy’s Club?

Creatives hold a lot of power – their visions are plastered on our billboards, streamed across our screens, and flashed across our phones. They colour the world around us.

(Lead Image: Instagram @gabnaodesigns)

Given the power creatives hold, it is all the more worrying that a 2020 study found Australia’s creative industries to be “entrenched in gender and diversity imbalance”.

Four years on, are things improving? Or is the creative department still a boy’s club? B&T investigates.

The number one driver for a career in the creative industry is simple – it is“making things,” industry icon and OG Auntie, and Australia’s most experienced creative talents specialist, Esther Clerehan tells B&T.

“Creative people are wired to solve problems and make things.”

While the same urge drives all creatives, it is clear that the playing field is not always level when it comes to having the freedom to innovate and create without censorship.


“I have found myself in previous roles changing ideas, or filtering ideas based on what I think my male creative bosses and peers would like the most,” Phoebe Sloane who is a senior copywriter at Clemenger BBDO told B&T.

“Looking back it is such a shame, and very much a result of the environments I found myself in”.

Whilst the structure of the industry has changed, many key decision makers are still white men, an industry source that has chosen to remain anonymous told B&T.

“There is a gender disparity in terms of our leaders and the people making decisions,” they said.

“I’m not talking necessarily about creative directors, I’m talking about ECDs, CEOs, and MDs, there are still men and they’re still white men. So I have seen more promotion of women and that’s very encouraging. But the decision-makers, they have remained unchanged”.

The lack of diversity is particularly profound when we consider race alongside gender, they added.

“I’m still the only one or one of two women of colour in the entire advertising agency that I see in my meetings”.

Does awards culture hurt equality?

For Clerehan the structure of Adland itself can hurt female creativity. Particularly the over-emphasis on industry awards and late-night drinking culture.

“The 90s was the decade that did a lot of the damage,” she said.

After Cannes expanded its award offering, the focus of creative departments suddenly shifted towards winning.

“People started to weaponize them [the awards] and these ads that were often proactive and scams could go on to win Grand Prix. We saw careers catapult in the 90s,” she adds.

Esther Clerehan

This focus on winning “fired up the creative departments to work back late at night on proactive and scam ads”.

This culture suited women early on in their careers when “they’re in the club playing on the pool table,” however things changed once they got older and started having families.

“We’re lacking female creative leadership at the top during these formative years of child-making”.

Sloane agrees that starting a family is an area where women in the creative industries often find themselves at a significant disadvantage.

“There’s very much a mental burden that lands on women’s shoulders by way of biology. To egg freeze or not to egg freeze? If I try and make it to a CD role prior, will I be a lot more attractive/versatile on my return? Should I move agencies to get the benefits and support my family might need?” she says.

“It’s no coincidence we’re lacking female creative leadership at the top during these formative years of child-making and raising. I’ve had industry peers receive great support on their return, while others have had horrible experiences”.

Many women working in the creative industry can find motherhood hurts their careers

Signs of Hope

“But seeing creative women that have and are doing it, brings me hope that maybe one day, I can too”

For Sloane, awards can be a great thing for female creatives so long as they are judged fairly.

“There are award-shows that are championing diversity, and this can be very valuable to female creatives. From global award shows like Cannes’ See it Be It or One Show’s Next Creative Leaders are programs that invest, educate and support creative women as they move into leadership roles”.

“We also have local recognition too, such as our very own B&T Women in Media Awards and AWARD Leadership Course”.

Do you have any insight into the state of diversity within the creative industry? contact sofia@bandt.com.au.

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