With the ongoing #MeToo and #TimesUp movement and with women comprising more than half of marketing and creative industries—our industry must actively move to advance the equality agenda. It’s disheartening to learn that a Kantar study found perceptions of equality in the media and marketing industries across Asia Pacific had dropped nearly 10 points since last year. This is compounded by the fact that this year’s Trust Barometer results found women were 7 percent less trusting of business than men – the largest-ever gender trust gap.

Statistically, the picture is pretty dire. But I’m encouraged by one overarching shift: All the talk is beginning to result in action. I attended Campaign Asia’s annual Women Leading Change conference in Singapore, the region’s largest gathering of professionals from media, communications and brand marketers. This year’s program was all about taking action to make diversity more inclusive. Here are my top three takeaways:

  1. To achieve real change, men need to be engaged in the conversation.

    Studies show that 74 percent of men are hesitant to get involved in gender equality initiatives, for fear of making a mistake or getting it wrong. However, BCG research shows that firms who deliberately include men in gender-focused initiatives are three times more likely to see progress (compared to companies where men are not engaged), with innovation revenue almost 20 percent more than less diverse teams. We’re beginning to see firm-wide actions being taken across our industry to involve men in all facets of equality. We’ve heard from firms who are introducing paternity leave equal to that of mothers and encouraging men to take paternity leave without fear of losing their jobs. We also learned about “lean-in circles” designed exclusively for men to discuss equality issues without fear of being labelled ignorant or out of touch. Other training-based initiatives seek to raise male managers’ awareness of values, and how they unintentionally or unconsciously include and exclude people.
  2. Eliminating bias from recruitment is a big step in the right direction for workplace diversity.

    Unconscious bias and discrimination in recruitment has all sorts of adverse effects on the success of different organizations, and it is considerably more prevalent than we might realize. Over half of Southeast Asians and 50 percent of Chinese people reported they missed out on an opportunity due to their race. Anecdotally, we ‘ve heard that women can be preempted because their pregnancy and upcoming time off from work might make them a less desirable candidate for a job position. Kantar’s research suggests we’re headed in the right direction, with around 33 percent of organizations surveyed offering unconscious bias training and 79 percent confirming flexible working policies. Yet there are still practices – such as including a photo and personal biographical details like age and marital status on CVs – that need industry-wide elimination if we are going to quash bias in recruitment.
  3. Representation of women needs to be more than numbers. For further progress, we need to change the way women are portrayed in society.

    The media plays an integral role in shaping our perspectives and worldviews, which is why media organizations need to be front and center in addressing unconscious bias in newsrooms. Globally, only 24 percent of people you hear, see or read about in the news and just 19 percent of experts sourced in stories are female. In Asia, women are still most commonly depicted in the media as victims or with focus placed on their family status, age or outward appearance. Currently in our industry, female spokespeople are also few and far between, while in adland, research shows nearly half of women do not feel represented in advertisements. So how can we move the dial? By actively championing women to be spokespeople within our clients’ organizations and by amplifying women’s voices through partnerships like United for News and BBC’s 50:50 Project. Eliminating stereotypes can also begin through depictions of real women on platforms like Unsplash (a free online stock image collection portraying real women). Agencies like ours need to work closely with newsrooms to source female CEOs, political commentators and experts for stories so that together we can start shifting ingrained perceptions that limit women.

Forums like Women Leading Change are important for dialogue, but what made this one stand out was its emphasis on turning words into actions. It’s clear that initiatives that address unconscious bias, tackle discrimination and track progress are having a positive impact, but diversity and inclusion isn’t something to be achieved. It’s something organizations must constantly work at, assess and improve. And even when they think they’ve made progress, they need to be asking themselves and their colleagues whether the organization can do better.

Mandy Wu is regional marketing manager, Edelman APAC.

Andy Raizal