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Opinion and Insight

If Canada Can Do It, Why Can’t the Ad Industry?

LBB Editorial , 1 year, 11 months ago

Justin Trudeau’s ‘Because it’s 2015’ is common sense that adland just can’t get its head around, says Laura Swinton

If Canada Can Do It, Why Can’t the Ad Industry?


Oh Canada. LBB’s always had a bit of a fond spot for the USA’s northern neighbour, thanks to family connections and, of course, a vibrant advertising and production scene. We like it so much that we’re even going to have some *pretty exciting* Toronto-centric news in early 2016. But that ‘like’ turned into ‘love’ because of the country’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. And not just because he’s a bit of a dish. No, it was when a journalist asked him why he had gone for gender equality in his new cabinet. Mr Trudeau’s answer? ‘Because it’s 2015’. Well, quite. And I do hope the advertising industry was paying attention.

The fascinating thing about the new Canadian cabinet lies not just in its representation of smart, effective women – it’s in the range of experiences and backgrounds of the crack team he’s assembled. Thirty upper middle class, wealthy white people split evenly along gender lines wouldn’t, really, be that much of a victory for diversity. Instead, Mr Trudeau looks like he really thought hard about putting together a group who will be able to draw from a variety of experiences, to really understand the lives of the people that they serve. The new Minister for Justice and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, is a descendant of the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk and Laich-Kwil-Tach peoples, a member of the We Wai Kai nation and was the former Regional Chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations. In a country where Aboriginal people are three times more likely to be victims of violent crimes than non-Aboriginal people, where they are also massively over-represented in the prison population and where there are hundreds of unsolved cases of missing or murdered indigenous women, her appointment is certainly an interesting one. Maybe we might see a shift in priorities? Minister for Veterans Affairs, Kent Hehr, was an aspiring P.E. teacher until he was shot and became quadriplegic. Perhaps he will be able to draw from his own experiences to approach the struggles of returning veterans, many of whom have physical and mental health difficulties to deal with?

I could go on, but suffice to say that with two indigenous ministers, three Sikh ministers, a Muslim minister and two differently abled ministers in his gender-equal cabinet it looks like Justin Trudeau sees real value in pushing for diversity. Delve into his ministers’ backgrounds (do, they’re seriously impressive) and it’s clear that the tokenism argument holds no water – these are people with all sorts of life experiences but who have achieved professionally and are all round bad asses.

And then… then there’s the ad industry.

The underrepresentation of women in top level agency positions is an issue that’s become ear-bleedingly dull. Not because it’s a non-issue. But because, to paraphrase Justin Trudeau, ‘for FUCK’S SAKE it’s 2015’. How is this not fixed yet? No number of 'Wimmin in Advertizzzzing' conferences or whatever will change anything if the people with the power don't actually do anything.

Cindy Gallop found herself quoted in the Mail Online (don’t judge me, I was there, for… uh… research..?) this week when she tweeted criticism of Leo Burnett Sydney’s recent promotion of five white dudes to senior positions in the agency. In a recent interview with Digiday, she suggested that incumbent white men sitting at the top of the industry have no interest in making the necessary changes to address the baked-in structures that work in their favour.

Going further – because, like the man in Canada says, ‘it’s 2015’ and intersectionality is so where it’s at right now – these structures also prevent diversity of ethnicity, experience, social class, disability and wealth at junior and senior levels of the industry.

Internships that are unending and unpaid are a too-steep price of entry to the advertising industry. The major adland hubs are based in cities that are more unaffordable than ever for young hopefuls. The lazy recruiters who hunt out new candidates based on the same old key word searches on LinkedIn. The nepotism. The free-and-easy social element of the business has a cliquey dark side that can through invisible walls to anyone who isn’t quite like ‘us’. Sure you might get ‘in the door', but will you get ‘up the stairs’?

In an age when everyone’s banging on endlessly about engagement it’s absolutely baffling that the industry hasn’t – as a whole – realised the potential for growth that comes with, well, engaging with people from outside of the same old background. Advertising is missing out on exactly the kind of leaders it needs to shake it out of its stultifying rut. 

If Justin Trudeau can do it, why the fuck can’t we?