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#BigQDiversity: That inner circle? Incredibly hard to crack

by MarkLives (@marklives) How are South African creative agencies faring in ensuring gender equity in the workplace? Are women enjoying the same opportunities and pay as their male colleagues — or are they still mired in gender bias, sexism and harassment? Without any real hard data available, Keri-Ann Stanton of Avatar is the next key female executive to give us her assessment of the state of Adland.

Keri-Ann Stanton

Keri-Ann Stanton (@KAmuses) is head of PR for Avatar, South Africa’s largest black-owned and -managed advertising agency, and group communications director for M&N Brands, a new agency network for Africans, by Africans. A multi-award-winning PR strategist and creative (APEX, Loeries, SABRE EMEA, African Excellence and Prisms), she works across sectors and disciplines from FMCG to SOEs. The global Holmes Report named her as one of the top 25 communication innovators in EMEA in 2017 and she has been invited to speak on various panels in Miami, Rwanda and SA.

You’re talking to the person who gave Mzamo Masito a standing ovation at last year’s Loeries for calling out adland for its sexism, racism, bias and general laziness.

You’re also talking to the person who was given a seat at the table by two of the youngest, most progressive leaders in adland. So, if two 36-year-old disruptors can listen to and take counsel and criticism from a woman, (and vice versa), then there’s really no excuse for the rest of adland.

Boys’ club

Is it a boys’ club still? Yes. Whose fault is that? My knee jerk reaction is to say “ours”. But then I thought about who makes decision and who appoints agencies.



Are the decision makers male or female? Are boardrooms transformed? Is there diversity at THEIR table? Nah, fam, boys’ club meets boys’ club. Transform the boardroom and you transform adland. Of course, I’m making sweeping generalisations. But while there are #metoo campaigns, and accounts such as @dietmadisonave on Instagram and high-profile stories such as those of Gustavo Martinez and Kevin Roberts then, really, one can assume that adland in SA is in the same state. I have watched one agency rid itself of Female Leadership one by one. I have also watched agencies such as Riverbed build female leadership.

Adland is non-traditional, out of the norm, a little crazy. It’s a place which challenges, disrupts and forces frank conversations. But it’s also a place with balance sheets and where money can be god. Where money is a god, EQ falls away.

On par with racism

I don’t hear anything of harassment but I do feel sexism is on a par with racism, in my experience. That inner circle? Incredibly hard to crack.

Gender bias? Yes, it’s there.

I did laugh out loud at a recent study by Thomas International on “Women in Business” which stated rather eloquently: “A consistent example of this bias is that male leaders who score lower on adjustment are seen as ‘passionate’ or ‘really caring about their work’ whereas female leaders with similar personalities are seen as ‘over-emotional’ or ‘not able to maintain composure.’”

That word “emotion/al” can trigger me like nothing else.

The study was aimed at concluding whether there’s a difference between male and female leadership (spoiler: there isn’t) but the gender bias is there, loud and clear: “Women appear to be scrutinized more as to whether they exhibit specific personality traits, benefiting women who can navigate through complex information and who are serious, optimistic, quick in decision-making, inspiring and assertive. By contrast, it appears that men are selected more based on, not on who they are, but the legacy they have accrued (namely their age and education).”

I could go on. It’s not good for my blood pressure, though.


I’ve fought to break into tight little circles. I’ve bowed out of them as fast, too. My BS radar is so high, it’s just easier to focus on the work. And that is my saving grace: focusing on the work, and results. Because nobody can dispute that; that’s where respect is earned. Respect gives you the voice. It’s taken me years to find my voice. That ask for more money. That goes, “That’s not okay.” That allows me to step away from places where people aren’t asking the right questions.

So, yes, how are we faring in adland? About as well as we are in corporate South Africa. A simple search for the JSE’s top CEOs reveals a whole lot of men and that tells the story, doesn’t it?

See also

  • #BigQDiversity: Empowering women in a sustainable way — Camilla Clerke
  • #BigQDiversity: Gender equity in SA advertising — Nino Naidoo
  • #BigQDiversity: Another diversity article — Khanyi Mpumlwana
  • The Big Q: Discrimination and sexism in adland and marketing — Heidi Brauer, Nino Naidoo, Neo Makhele, Viv Gordon (2016)

MarkLives logoLaunched in 2016, “The Big Q” is a regular column on MarkLives in which we ask key advertising and marketing industry execs for their thoughts on relevant issues facing the industry. If you’d like to be part of our pool of panellists, please contact editor Herman Manson via email (2mark at marklives dot com) or Twitter (@marklives). Suggestions for questions are also welcomed.

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#BigQDiversity: That inner circle? Incredibly hard to crack


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