Gender equality is often portrayed as a women’s problem. This issue affects entire countries, including their economies, happiness index and unsurprisingly, the quality of their sex lives. From a business perspective, companies with greater gender diversity have better bottom lines then those who don’t, they attract and retain the best talent and have greater operational performance. More money, more talent, less turnover, better productivity–could the business case be simpler? The Australian creative industry needs to listen up if it wants to benefit. A 2013 Communications Council report shows that women represent just 27.3 percent of creative departments in Australia and 13.5 per cent of creative directors or more senior positions within creative departments.

The question is no longer whether either sex is more creative then the other, it is rather, what opportunities can we provide so that gender parity is reached sooner? How can we ensure that today’s female design grads have more then a 1/8 chance of becoming a Creative Director? How can we ensure that sexist campaigns, that encourage a culture of discrimination, no longer come out of creative departments?

In the 21st century sexism does not sell.

Sexism-Ad-lynx

An interim solution is taking action in communities that promote gender equality. Who knows, they may actually inspire you into action in ways agIdeas and the Behance home page can’t?

HeForShe is a campaign that appeals to both genders, but primarily asks men to become more actively involved as advocates for change. Organisations are realising that men need to be included in the gender equality conversation because they experience the effects just as women do, but also because they want to create a better future for their mothers, sisters, daughters and partners. Gentlemen please add your name to the tally of supporters if you believe that girls and women should not be subjected to violence and discrimination.

Another community I highly recommend is UN Women, an organisation I volunteered for at the Women’s Empowerment Principles Summit two weeks ago. Both genders are welcome to join the organisation. The aim of the WEP Summit was to explore and workshop best practices that will advance gender equality in the workplace. Attendees represented organisations including Diversity Council Australia, Telstra, Commonwealth Bank, Unilever, Aurizon, DHL Express, Kimberly Clark and Australian Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Their positions of influence ranged from CEOs and general managers to human resource strategists and heads of diversity. My role as a volunteer was to scribe the roundtable discussions between the attendees and document key ideas around the focus area of ‘Community, Leadership and Engagement.’

I would like to acknowledge the incredible warmth and inspiration that this short, five-hour-long event provided. It was such a positive experience to be in the presence of people who had the influence and passion to make a huge difference in the quality of life of both women and men.

Three key ideas raised at the table were to:

1.Encourage companies to partner with charities that support gender equality

Certain organisations (usually larger enterprises) attribute annual funding and/or employee volunteer hours to charities. The proposition was to encourage our employers to use that funding towards charities that supported gender equality, an issue that affects all employees directly or indirectly in some way.

One of the delegates from Kimberly Clark pointed out that the options for choosing a charity to support are too vast and that employees are more likely to engage with a charity that provides some level of personal resonance. So how do companies decide to invest their altruistic dollars? The two resounding answers were that they listened to suggestions from employees or they look for charities that align with their company values. The latter obviously requires a lot of upfront research about the goals of a charity, which is a huge time investment. You can help nudge your employers in the right direction by simply making a suggestion about which charity you’d like to contribute to. Your employer’s overall contribution will be far greater then any individual monetary contribution you make, so a small suggestion could potentially go a long way.

2.Engage with young women at primary/secondary school level to positively influence their career trajectories

School is where our career attitudes start. An interesting point that was raised at the roundtable was the difference between the educational cultures in girls and boys schools. It was stated that traditionally, young women are educated to excel in humanities while young men are educated to become leaders.

One of the delegates shared an anecdote about a successful female entrepreneur from the US who did some research among primary school-aged girls. She found that these girls wanted to be exactly like their mum, and follow their career path. While there is nothing wrong with aspiring to follow our mothers’ career trajectories, our mothers aren’t the ones in top leadership positions. Women hold only 3% of Fortune 500 CEO positions, 1.5% of ASX CEO positions and 12.3% of ASX director positions.

If business as usual continues our future generation of young women will grow up with limiting beliefs about their ability to lead organisations, earn a high salary and influence their communities. We need to present them with a picture of female leadership they can aspire to. This doesn’t solely mean female creative directors and CEOs becoming a cultural norm, but the development of a leadership style that leverages feminine attributes such as intuition, empathy, emotional intelligence and vulnerability.

3. Provide greater options for return-to-work support

Childcare is not a section of the contract that most young creatives will be scrutinising, but we do need to be aware of what the current legislation and contractual norms are if we want the freedoms to be there in the future. It is a cultural expectation to have a child in western society. I’m 25 and my mum is already asking me when I’ll be popping out her grand kids. The thing is that I see having a child as a huge stopper on the progress of my career. The options seem to be having a long successful career or a healthy child and a fragmented career. I wish it were a different story. While these are my own beliefs I’m sure I’m not alone.

As stated at the WEP Summit, childcare is still widely viewed as a women’s issue. One of the delegates pointed out that only 75% of women who receive maternity leave stay past a year, which is a huge cost to any company. Another woman stated that it was a common occurrence for new mothers to break down during performance reviews because they believed that they were failing at both of their highly demanding roles. It’s deeply saddening to think that such extreme symptoms of gender inequality are common.

One of the solutions offered at the table was for employers to engage with childcare providers on behalf of employees. This way an employee would receive an extra node in their support network and become connected with an accredited childcare resource.

Another more immediately accessible option is to encourage both genders to work from home or work part-time so that they can provide better quality care for their child. According to a Mumbrella survey, women are still the ones who are compromising their careers to accommodate a child. Just over 8 per cent of the females currently employed within creative departments work part time, while only 1.7 per cent of male creatives are currently working part time. As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook stated in her brilliant TED Talk, we need to make our partners real partners if we are going to have more female leaders.

Gender equality is a goal that can be realised with small consistent steps. The underlining message I would like to drive home is that the realisation of equal rights and equal opportunities will provide greater cultural freedoms for men and women. The concepts of leaders, directors, feelers, thinkers, breadwinners, flex-working parents and stay-at-home parents will belong to both genders if we recognise and action our individual contributions to an issue that welcomes everyone to the discussion