Why the creative industries still offer the most inspiring environment for women leaders

Sarah Skinner, Grace Blue's Managing Director, on why the creative industries still offer the most inspiring environment for women leaders

With the recent Davies Report on UK boardrooms, the number of women in leadership roles has hit the headlines again.

There has already been a fair bit of research demonstrating that women are more likely to be promoted to a senior post in organisations that already have women at the top, but now there is a new study by professors at the University of Arizona and McGill University that adds another slant to the debate.

Specifically, they found women are more likely to fill newly-created management roles in organisations that already have more senior female managers. The research focused on advertising agencies in the 1980s and 90s, as the sector has a history of short career ladders and agencies creating new job roles to hang onto their existing talent.

But that's not the only reason you find more senior women in the creative sector. As a fairly young industry, it lacks the hidebound, tradition-based legacy of other professions. As one of the most future-facing environments around, it's been built on the endless desire for innovation, originality and challenging the status quo.

As a result it's made advertising and media a far more meritocratic place to work. Where people are more willing to try new things, you'll find a place where women are better able to flourish and there is a relatively fast career trajectory to leadership.

You don't have to spend decades "putting in your time", as you might in a big FTSE business or law firm. The creative sector values potential as much as years of experience; perhaps even more. With more women in leadership roles, it naturally paves the way and inspires the next generation of women to aspire for the top and believe that they can succeed.

In fact, we know from our own experience placing agency leaders that those businesses invariably want the best person for the job, regardless of years on a CV, geography or gender.

There's also little doubt that the marketing communications world is one of the fastest-moving when it comes to creating new management roles, as it is constantly adapting to the rapidly changing media landscape. The benefit of this has been that there are more opportunities to retain and grow top talent. Ten years ago, who would have needed a head of social media or a head of branded content?

So the creative sector has a lot to recommend it when it comes to encouraging women into leadership roles. On the one hand it's built on a culture of innovation and meritocracy where women can aspire to the highest roles earlier in their careers, while on the other there is a plethora of new roles and management positions created to retain good people and keep abreast of global consumers' ever-changing moods, desires and behaviours.

It's not perfect, of course. As in all other sectors, it can be a struggle to be a working mother in the creative industries or to take an extended career break, but again due to the sector's willingness to innovate and try new things, it is getting a lot better.

That said, the dynamic culture of the advertising and media world has allowed many women to reach the top and thus inspire others to aim equally high. This new Arizona/McGill research highlights as much, and once again reinforces the view that organisations with women in senior roles tend to provide more inspiring and relevant environments for other women to rise to leadership, whether the roles already existed or have been created just for them.

The Guardian