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Column: Forget the Mad Men stereotype – women are making their mark in modern-day advertising

Advertising has a record for recognising innovation, creativity and talent – irrespective of the sex of the candidate – and setting specific workplace objectives for women to aspire to board membership will further help gender diversity, writes Deirdre Waldron.

Deirdre Waldron

THE LATEST REPORT from the Institute of Directors claimed that progress has been made regarding the number of women on boards. However, the majority of women still believe that it is more difficult for women to become non-executive directors. Seventy-two per cent say greater transparency in the appointment process is needed and 4 in 5 say that women need to take some responsibility for the low level of female appointments on boards in Ireland.

From my own experience in my role as Managing Director of Cawley Nea\TBWA, and previously Managing Director of Agency.com, I would contend that the Irish advertising industry reflects how women are now progressing to senior positions. The industry has a record for recognising innovation, creativity and talent in appointing candidates to boards, irrespective of the sex of the candidate.

Women making their mark in modern day advertising

Contrary to the Mad Men stereotype where men once dominated the advertising industry, women are very much making their mark in modern day advertising. Gender is no longer a barrier to career advancement – merit and experience is at the heart of the industry and the rising number of female leaders in the industry is indicative of this.

It would be naïve to claim all industries follow the same pattern. The fact that a majority of women believe it is more difficult to become non-executive directors than men on Irish boards presents a reality that equality is still an issue in the Irish workplace. However, there are some industries that are progressing faster than others. The advertising industry has innovative female leaders implementing real change in a tough economic climate. Indicative of this is the appointment of Tania Banotti, CEO at Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI), Orlaith Blaney, Managing Director of McCann Erickson and Vice President of the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI) and Miriam Hughes CEO of the largest marketing communications group in Ireland, DDFH&B. Furthermore, it is now the norm for senior positions to be filled by women amongst the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland member agencies, the governing body for the industry.

Career detours

As with most Irish industries, new technology and the economic downturn has impacted  Irish advertising’s day-to-day business. We are an industry that is creative and leads the way in its use of technology and the strength of Irish advertising industry lies in the inclusive, yet eclectic, nature of the industry as a whole. Before being appointed as MD of Cawley Nea, I had many career detours before pursuing a career in advertising. I worked as a programmer for many years working in multimedia companies in both Ireland and the US. From there I moved into the financial services sector and managed large-scale online consumer facing applications, so I’ve experienced and moved up in what would generally be considered ‘male’ industries.

My passion has always been where technology meets the consumer, so a move to advertising was inevitable. My career in advertising has lead to professional acknowledgement and fulfilment. I have worked on  IAPI AdFx award winning campaigns like the HSE smoking cessation programme – ‘1 in 2 smokers will die of a tobacco related disease’ – and Electric Ireland’s digital re-brand journey from ESB to Electric Ireland.

Talent is well represented by women

The industry has many forums to showcase talent, and this talent is well-represented by women. This year we saw IAPI’s annual ‘One to Watch’ Award awarded to Jess Majekodunmi. The award recognises the achievement of excellent professional standards, creativity and innovation in marketing communications by a graduate student. Majekodunmi is a marketing communications specialist for non-profits with six years management experience, and is currently working on the ‘Because I am a Girl’ campaign with Plan Ireland. Previously, my colleague Sinéad Dennis, Digital Account Manager at Cawley Nea\TBWA was a nominee for the award in 2011, proving recognition and awarding of excellence in advertising to women is both commonplace and ongoing in Irish advertising. This is leading to promotion, a platform for growing a distinctive professional profile and ongoing opportunities for women to showcase their skills to a client base and prospective employers.

Support and encouragement of all staff is important for success

I agree with the majority of women that we need to take responsibility ourselves for the low level of women on boards. Support and encouragement for women in the workplace is crucial to help increase this number. Having said that, I believe that support and encouragement of all staff is vitally important for the success of any business and so would not necessarily single out women. However if we are to attain the levels of women on boards set out for us by the proposed European Union law, which aims to attain a 40 per cent “objective” of women in non-executive board member positions in large publicly listed companies by 2020, then we need to get focused. Setting specific workplace objectives for women to aspire to board membership is the first step to achieving this.

Deirdre Waldron is the Managing Director of MD Cawley Nea\TBWA advertising agency. Deirdre began her career as a programmer, took a few detours into the dotcom bubble and financial services, via San Francisco and Boston, before settling into advertising in Dublin. Before becoming Managing Director of Cawley Nea\TBWA, Deirdre was Managing Director of Agency.com, where her experience of technology-led marketing and advertising generated effective and award-winning communication solutions for her clients such as Audi Ireland, The National Lottery, Electric Ireland, GSK, National Dairy Council and the Health Service Executive. At Cawley Nea\ TBWA Deirdre provides client counsel, delivering inventive answers to her clients’ critical marketing questions.

For more information on a career in advertising log on to www.iapi.ie

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Deirdre Waldron

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