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Can women really be CEOs? The marketing industry needs to come to terms with this…

By August 4, 2016August 18th, 2019MENA

By Elie Khouri, Chief Executive Officer at OMG 

Kevin Roberts is in hot water. Earlier this week, the Saatchi & Saatchi chairman told Business Insider the gender diversity debate in the ad industry is ‘over’ and some women lack ‘the vertical ambition’ to reach senior positions. Shortly after its publication, Roberts was put on ‘a leave of absence’. Publicis CEO Maurice Levy distanced himself from the controversial article, stating ‘promoting gender equality starts at the top.’ Yesterday, Roberts announced his resignation.

Social media has been buzzing around this topic. Several have acknowledged the issue and some have asked whether the response to Roberts comment was too severe.

Absolutely not.


The world of marketing and communications does have a diversity and inclusion problem. The numbers speak for themselves. Over the past ten years the amount of women in senior leadership roles entering Cannes Lions’ awards hasn’t increased. In fact, it has fallen from 9.9% to 9.8%. Consider also only 12-14% creative directorship roles are held by women (according to recruitment consultancy Propel). Only a few months ago, Leo Burnett Sydney received serious backlash from the industry over its all white male creative team.

Esheghe by Hadieh Shafie

At this point – you might be thinking: ‘okay, so maybe the numbers don’t quite add up. But is this really a business problem?

Of course it is. Diversity at work isn’t just the ‘right thing to do’ – studies have proven that diverse leadership makes businesses more profitable and better places to work at. McKinsey’s report titled, Women Matters, found companies with women in leadership positions outranked their counterparts on nine criteria including leadership, direction, accountability, coordination and control.

In the marketing services industry, the question of inclusion and diversity has never been more crucial or relevant. Given the fact that women make up to 85% of purchase decisions, the reason we need to have women represented at every level of our industry is plainly obvious. What’s more, as the nature of marketing transforms before our very eyes who we hire, promote and the kind of work we engage in will be pivotal to being successful in the new era of marketing, data, content and technology.

Be faithful to your dreams by Tracey Emin

So where do we begin? We can start by addressing our collective unconscious bias, endorsing mentorship and sponsorship for high-potential female employees and take so many other steps to be strategic about women’s advancement. There’s a lot of work to do.

Here in the Middle East, we have our work cut out for us. Over the years, we’ve seen the rise and success of many brilliant women within our group.  What’s more, we’re working on internal initiatives to get us closer to having a balanced split 50/50 in our leadership team by 2020. This is our collective responsibility and my personal ambition.

In the meantime, we must take note of Kevin Roberts’ incendiary comments. His statements remind us how much we are yet to learn and understand about diversity. And so, I’d like to open up the dialogue here on LinkedIn and hear from all of the men and women in the marketing world. In the comment section down below do let me know your thoughts on diversity. What’s the biggest culprit responsible for the current mix of leadership? What’s the one thing we can do today to change the current trajectory?

Art featured: Anna Wintour by Alex Katz; Esheghe by Hadieh Shafie; Be faithful to your dreams by Tracey Emin


This post was originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse

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