Women in Media’s Esther Clerehan: “Mediocre Men Have Been Getting Senior Advertising Jobs For Years!”

Women in Media’s Esther Clerehan: “Mediocre Men Have Been Getting Senior Advertising Jobs For Years!”

Adland recruitment doyenne Esther Clerehan believes there’s a good way to respect the path laid before the industry, but for change to occur, she says, you need to break the rules and carve a new one.

During this year’s B&T Women in Media Awards, presented by Are Media, we’ll be recognising exceptional people who have achieved success in their professional arenas, celebrating their invaluable contribution to their industry through leadership, innovation and courage.

Although she won’t admit it out of humility, one of these extraordinary – and dare we say, ‘brave’ – professionals is Esther Clerehan, who is among Australian advertising’s most respected and experienced creative talent specialists, and the 2018 Women in Media Awards’ ‘Mentor of the Year’.

A few days after celebrating the 40th AWARD awards- of whose committee she has been a member for four years – Clerehan sat down to chat with B&T about her life in advertising and courageousness (in between walks of her ‘COVID puppy’, Isaac the groodle, of course).

It’s very clear that bravery isn’t a noun Clerehan would reserve for advertising, or for describing herself – but rather a quality she would spare for those putting their lives on the line, she says.

In fact, she hates that it takes brave people to make a difference on gender equality in the workforce.

“To me, it’s just common sense. We shouldn’t have to be brave to do it,” she tells B&T.

“It’s not good business to not have gender equality. If you don’t have balance in your company, it should be a priority to get it and that doesn’t take bravery – it’s just common sense.”

But one moment that did require courage from Clerehan was saying to herself that she belonged to an era that did not- or chose not to – see the problem of a lack of gender equality in advertising.

“Cindy Gallop said that ‘a fish does not know what water is’… I have been in the advertising industry for over 40 years. So, I took it as normal,” she says. “But there were so few women at the top.”

This, she says, is a systemic problem- backed up by the latest results of the public Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s women in leadership statistics, which show women hold 14.1 per cent of chair positions and 26.8 per cent of directorships across the entire workforce.

Women also represent 17.1 per cent of CEOs and 31.5 per cent of key management personnel in Australia, the data shows.

Clerehan says it took an extraordinarily long time for people to realise there was a problem in advertising- as recently as the now infamous Leo Burnett’s all white, all male PR shot.

“I would admit that I, just by my sheer age, must have been part of the problem.”

Not enough has been done to fix the problem since, though. Clerehan believes the issue of representation won’t be solved until “it’s not a thing to have a female prime minister” or, specifically, “to have a female creative director”.

“When mediocre women get the senior jobs, we’ll have made it,” she says. “Plenty of mediocre men have been getting senior jobs or leadership jobs for years.”

Part of the wider problem, Clerehan says, is that women cannot celebrate advertising’s past if it is totally male dominated – they need to look forward, instead.

“You can study Bernbach’s theory of advertising, but it doesn’t mean you build your agency in his model,” she says.

“If you’re going to study advertising, and the book is of 90 per cent men’s greatness, then there’s not a lot of women with their names at the door.”

Clerehen wouldn’t admit it, but that’s certainly a brave thing – taking up arms against the status quo – and the necessity to recognise the women in media is extraordinarily clear.

Don’t be shy, be proud of your achievements at enter B&T’s Women In Media! Submit your entry here.

You can also buy tickets to the event here, which will be held on Wednesday 28 October 2020, Doltone House Jones Bay Wharf.

And, if you’d like more information, head to this website.

Other key information 

On-time deadline: Friday 21 August 2020 (5pm AEST)

Late entries deadline: Friday 28 August 2020 (5pm AEST)

Shortlist announced: Wednesday 23 September 2020.

Thank you to all of our incredible sponsors for making the event possible! 


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