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IWD Special 7 Mar 2022 - 5 min read

If agencies don't walk the talk on diversity, they'll be left with second rate staff – or worse

By Renée Hyde – Managing Director, Howatson+Company
Renée Hyde

People can see through fluff pretty quickly. Making a song and dance about International Women's Day and diversity but failing to deliver on substance is going to backfire on agencies, warns Howatson+Company’s Renée Hyde. Which is why IWD is still important – because it reminds the labour market that there is a choice, and now more than ever, employees are calling the shots.

We are absolutely moving in the right direction. But we’ve been having this conversation for years.

Renée Hyde, Managing Director, Howatson+Company

Is IWD still important?

At the start of my career, I vividly remember seeing women go on maternity leave and wondering where they went. They simply didn’t come back. I can count on one hand the women I “grew up” with in advertising that are still working in the industry.

Most have built impressive careers client-side or moved onto something else entirely – proof that they don’t lack ambition, they lacked the support and structure that was needed to continue to grow after a career break. 

Fifteen years on, our industry – and the world at large – is a very different place. There’s increased flexibility, parental leave, back to work programs, accepted differences in leadership style, mentoring programs, a client community far more accepting (and demanding) of female leadership and flexible work, and, thankfully, many more females serving as role models for the next generation. Men are helping demonstrate and champion flexibility and sharing parenting responsibilities. 

We are absolutely moving in the right direction.  

But we’ve been having this conversation for years. Surely, we have progressed to the point that this issue no longer requires panels, ceremonies and press? Should we now be focusing on some of the other very big issues we are facing in the world today? 

Sadly not. There’s an ocean of statistics detailing how we’ve only just started the journey of equality for women and other minority groups – none more humbling to the account of progress than the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s 2021 study, which revealed women are still paid 22.8 per cent less than a man in the same role. 

Agencies beware: It’s an employee’s market and this process serves to accelerate the need for change. There will be consequences – long-term open roles or second-tier talent – for those who fall behind. 

Renée Hyde, Managing Director, Howatson+Company

Demonstrable change will attract talent

So it’s clear there’s still a way to go, but I’d argue that International Women’s Day is still important as it forces employers to be held to account – not just on gender issues, but on their entire diversity and inclusion strategy.  

Days like IWD create an appraisal moment for talent. Employees are savvier than ever, and quickly see through a cute Instagram post, or the breakfast pastries, looking far deeper for connection with the employer’s values and, even more importantly, proven actions.  

Agencies beware: It’s an employee’s market and this process serves to accelerate the need for change. There will be consequences – long-term open roles or second-tier talent – for those who fall behind. 

This trend will only continue. Talent of all genders, sexual preferences, ages and ethnicities are seeking values alignment from their employer. Gen Z, the emerging workforce, are almost as likely to choose the diversity and inclusivity of a company as they are to choose salary when comparing a similar offer (34 per cent versus 36 per cent).  

I’m optimistic that these conditions are perfect for rapid and long-lasting change, not just because Corporate Australia is finally starting to see the necessity of equality, but because the motivations of the labour market will keep us all accountable.  

So should we keep having the IWD conversation? Yes, we most definitely should – and if we don’t take meaningful action, talent will be hard to come by. 

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