Are you “overcooking” or “undercooking” the Diversity thing?

by Helen Milner, Senior Creative Director, Designworks.

Overcooking it

The other day I received the most perfect typo in an email from a colleague. One in fact Freud himself would be intrigued by. My friend was busy putting together a proposal document for a prospective new client and he’d emailed to see whether we should add a few more experts (both male) to the team . “Or”, he asked , “are we over cooking it?” ….Well that’s what he meant to say. What he actually said was “or are we overcocking it?”. Much hilarity ensued, with emails flying up and down the country, typed with grins on our faces and teasing at our finger tips.

Joking aside, the fact of the matter was YES, the proposal was definitely overcocked. Out of the five on the executive team I was the only woman. His comment got me thinking about the creative world and its ‘over cocked’ nature. In the States only 11% of creative directors are women  – I would hazard a guess New Zealand would be very similar. I would also place a bet that the majority of them run their own businesses like I did for fifteen years. It wasn’t until I arrived back in a more corporate setting that I realised that there is in fact a bit of boys club – we are living in a predominantly white mans world, with a predominantly white mans perspective and this is an issue.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I am one of the most privileged people on the planet and I’m not going to get all medieval witch hunt on any of my male colleagues arses any time soon – but seriously – in 2017 – I can hear James Brown belting out ‘It’s a mans world’ in my head and I wish it wasn’t so. When I hear about comments like ‘he’s a mans man – we need men in the room’ and female friends who are seriously considering hiring a male, simply to get their ideas signed off by male CEO’s, I can understand why women in senior positions are throwing their hands up in despair and walking away. 

Talking to a colleague a few weeks ago on the topic of gender and diversity, he said ‘I know things have to change but seriously, why would men want to change a system that is so perfectly set up for us?’  Well here are a few facts to shake things up…

Companies with at least 30% female execs out perform the stock markets by 173% – yep, that’s right, 173%.*

Companies with female board members are 26% more profitable than companies with all male boards.*

Companies with higher gender diversity are 38% more likely to have higher than average market share.*

And given the fact woman influence upwards of 80% of the consumer spending world wide and 60%* of the conversations being shared on social media – you would argue that there needs to be a lot more women in the creative world, shaping brands and their communications. 

The facts speak for themselves and there are a load of them. What saddens and angers me is that I’m actually listing them here to back up a perfectly legitimate right to have the same amount of seats at the table. In this day and age why in earth should I have to? 

As a company that belongs to a global communications network we are leaders who have a huge influence on the way the world thinks. It is our responsibility to drive this change – Diversity is a beautiful thing. 

So what are we doing about it ?

In the Asia Pacific region 32%* of WPP’s executive leaders are women. WPP has online training for all employees to elevate awareness on unconscious bias and has created a programme in the northern hemisphere called WILL women in leadership lessons (which I’d love to see down here). And in Wellington we are founding WPP women’s working group to make these issues more visible…. it’s a good start and a lot more than a lot of organisations in our sector are doing.

What interests me is that as an industry that prides itself in coming up with amazing creative solutions for pretty much everything – why we’re not embracing this problem with the gusto it deserves?  This is not just a women’s issue –  this is something effects all of us. Women and men need to work together to create the paradigm shift that will advance all of us. To this end I invite all the men out there to take up the challenge and start ‘cocking up’ a storm to find ways you can help re shape the system, so we can all enjoy the benefits of more women stepping up to the top table.

… It is after all, the year of the Rooster – What are you waiting for!

Thanks to – Sandy, Sal, Vic, Shayne, Grant, Steve and my team for your input x


Helen Milner

  * Source facts in order of appearance: Eureka Report, Gender Balance Buys Better Results 2015. Credit Suisse, The CS Gender 3000: Women in Senior Management 2015. University of Illinois, Does Diversity Pay? 2009. The 3% Movement 2016. WPP sustainability report 2015/2016



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