It’s no secret that the advertising industry is lagging behind when it comes to gender equality. But Customer Experience Agency™ MercerBell has a long history of women being well represented at senior levels. And Managing Director Julie Dormand is working with other senior women in Publicis Groupe to drive gender equality across their agencies in Australia.

Dubbed VivaWomen!, the initiative was originally launched by the Publicis Groupe in Paris and New York, and a team of women quickly came together to drive to the initiative on this side of the world – Sarah Palmer and Melinda Geertz from Leo Burnett; Shelby Robinson from Sapient Razorfish; Pauly Grant from Publicis Media; and Julie from MercerBell.

“I think if you asked most people, they’d say ‘of course there should be gender equality’. But most people aren’t aware of the reality. When you see the stats you know something really needs to be done,” Julie says.

“We need to move towards half the chairs at the boardroom table being filled by women. Not half of half the chairs. Or half of half of half, which is what we have currently.”

“We need to grow the number of female CEOs in our industry and increase representation of women on management teams. We need to provide better support to mums who are returning to the workforce. And we need to close the pay gap. Until these things start happening, we need initiatives like VivaWomen!.”

Julie hastens to add that men stand to benefit from gender equality too. “Research shows that diversity in leadership creates more profitable businesses. And it leads to higher engagement scores and higher retention rates. I don’t believe this is because women are better. I believe business decisions made from the input of diverse opinions are better,” she says.

So what’s the focus for VivaWomen!? The team already has four initiatives underway for 2018. The first is a mentorship program for people in the ‘middle’ years. “We find we lose really talented women from our industry when they have children. We’re looking at ways to change that so we retain good, experienced people.”

The team is also looking into the gender pay gap issue worldwide for the Publicis Groupe and aims to put a strategy in place to address it.

Unconscious bias is another focus. “Growing up, we build instinctive thought patterns to help us make quick decisions and survive. But these also form biases that can be limiting in the workplace. Simple training and acknowledgement can help us improve in these areas,” she says.

Finally, the team will be looking at sexual harassment and misconduct. “We have zero tolerance on this. It’s everyone’s right to feel safe in their workplace so we need to make sure that’s true for everyone who works in the Publicis Groupe.”

The project has the full and vocal support of MercerBell CEO Nick Mercer. “Some might say we’re fighting ‘exclusivity with exclusivity’ – creating a girls’ club to tackle the boys’ club. But until we have gender equality, this is the way it needs to be,” he says.

“Frankly, it’s an initiative that’s long overdue,’ says Nick. “I see projects like VivaWomen! as part of a bigger shift taking place globally, part of a broader change that will make us stronger not only in business, but as a society. I’m 100% supportive.”