What’s the biggest needle shift in gender equality in the workplace you’ve seen over the last few years?

Shelley: Cultural shifts have shone a light on the benefits of gender equality and balanced leadership which has helped drive change. These shifts include advocacy and awareness for pay equity to real action in changing organisational cultures. In 2024, we now have 42% of Board positions in the FTSE 350 occupied by women, up 24.7% from 2017. 

This is great and significant progress and should be celebrated! However, the thorny statistic that stands out as clearly unaddressed, is that only 6% of CEO’s in the FTSE 350 are women - a meagre 2 percentage points increase from 2017. 

I’ve seen an important shift in people speaking up and challenging stereotypes in the work that is produced by advertising and creative agencies which is hugely impactful on society as a whole. However, there is still a lot of work to be done to address the gender paygap, representation at C-suite and board-level and addressing legacy systemic misogyny and discrimination. 

Are there any specific tactics for creating a safe space for women to contribute and lead?


  1. The language of leadership matters. So much of our business lexicon is rooted in military terminology, like “strategy”, “tactics”, “campaign”, “the enemy to beat” which can unintentionally create a non inclusive male gender skewed environment.
  2. Bring the quiet voices into the room ensuring everyone is heard. The quiet ones often have an alternative thought process and augment the discussion.
  3. Inclusive Workplace Policies. From primary and secondary carer maternity/paternity policies to menopause, disability and mental health policies...and more.


  1. Inclusive leadership training - to ensure that all leaders role model inclusive behaviour and foster a culture of inclusion. 
  2. Transparent career framework, progression and evaluation criteria and processes to ensure level and fair promotions.
  3. Clear policies against discrimination and harassment which need to be proactively revised to keep up with cultural changes. 
  4. Flexible work arrangement for support carers and people with dependents.

What's your advice on how men can understand and break through unconscious bias to drive gender parity?

Shelley: The majority of men, if not all, have close female relationships in their lives. My best advice is for them to be consciously curious. Ask the women in your life for their personal stories inside and outside of the workplace; You will be astonished by the first hand experiences (like discrimination, sexual harassment, workplace inequity, juggling home and work life and female health challenges) they will share with you. Being in-tune with these will help you put yourself in their shoes and empathetically represent the women in your life - at home and at work.

Ete: Do the work. Take time to educate yourself about unconscious bias, gender inequality and challenges faced by women in the workplace. Read, attend seminars, engage in workshops- seek to acknowledge and understand your own bias, root causes and how to address it. Remember, it’s not the job of women to educate men on the challenges that they face in the workplace, but when lived experiences are shared with you, then actively listen and learn. Ensure you reappraise your own perspective on situations based on the insight and experience that has been shared with you. 

What impact do you believe the work brands and agencies make can have on society as a whole?

Shelley: My overwhelming love for this industry is rooted in the immense opportunity we have to positively influence and impact society. Whether that be with the products we make, the companies we create or the communications we place into media channels. This comes with a huge responsibility and requires: 

  • Diverse internal, external and partner teams, ensuring all views are represented, there’s zero blind spots and no unconscious bias goes unchallenged.
  • A multi stakeholder approach - clarity and alignment on business, commercial and brand goals, and how the work we are putting out into the world is benefiting society. 
  • Measure with meaning. From the triple bottom line (Profit, Planet, People) where the Board of Directors is legally accountable for reporting the impact beyond profit will be the only way to evaluate whether we’re making the positive impact we are having on society as a whole. 

Ete: The primary purpose of our industry and the work we create is to reach millions of people and influence their perceptions, consideration, and response to a subject matter. As such, our industry can have a profound impact on culture, shaping societal perceptions and norms, as well as influencing and changing behaviour including:

  • Equality in portrayal of gender roles, avoiding stereotypes in advertising campaigns and using our platform and reach to shape societal norms and expectations on gender roles, behaviours, and relationships, by portraying diverse and progressive depictions of gender.
  • Ensuring there is gender equality and representation both ‘in-front of and behind, then camera’ by ensuring the supply chain used to create advertising has companies that support and deliver on gender equality. Ideally with companies owned and/or led by women.
  • Activating socially conscious consumers, who are brand loyal, to shift market forces.

Do you have any advice for other men who aspire to be effective allies?

Shelley: Start small. Lean in, and seek to understand. Listen to a podcast on the topic, speak with the trusted women in your life, at home as well as in your workplace. Ask your workplace to set up a DEI working group of men, where you can ask questions without fear of reproach. There are leading voices in the industry who are well worth tuning into. Lori Meakin (theOthers&Me), Daniele Fiancuda (TokenMan) and Lee Chambers are absolute gurus and a great place to start.

Ete: Do the work to self-educate, listen and learn. It’s important to really drive change that people seek to understand their own privilege and bias and how to address both. And, if you have a platform and influence then it’s important to ensure that recognition, value and contribution is genuinely equitable and fair in your organisation, as is the importance of advocating for the advancement of women - both within and outside of your workplace.

Most importantly, don't be performative in allyship. Continue to be an ally ‘when no-one is watching’, even if it may put you in a difficult situation. 

WACL (Women in Advertising Communications Leadership) is leading the charge with their initiative, “Levers for Change” a five-part series dedicated to accelerating gender equality and propelling more women into the coveted CEO role.

Our 50% CEO playbook provides practical tools to achieve a future where women hold half of all CEO positions.