It’s been way too long

The other day, I came across the announcement for a Professional Master in Account Planning. I had a look and was bemused (but not really surprised, because hey, this is advertising) that among 12 teachers, there is one woman.

I shared my bemusement, and got a note from the Program’s Founder and Director. Our correspondence is below. I am sharing it here because gender equality is debate-worthy topic.

Tuesday, April 11th

Hi Alexia, thank you for your note. I am glad that you are aware of the issue of women being underrepresented at conferences and professional programs like yours.

I appreciate that you tried to include some of these women in your program. I also understand that having a gender-balanced program is not always easy, and that there are multiple variables that go into this equation, some of them as mundane as speaker’s schedule and availability. I understand that your choice of speakers is largely shaped by your attendees.

That said, all of us — public speakers, conference organizers and educational program designers — have to make an effort that we start from a pool that is diverse. Global planning talent is gender diverse and there is plenty of incredibly accomplished, talented female planners who are also excellent public speakers.

This makes it hard for me to believe that in today’s global planning industry there is only one woman (as included in your program) who was available to participate.

I can probably give you a list of at least 10 women off the top of my head who would have been perfect for your program. Better yet, they wouldn’t be the usual suspects.

Speaking of the usual suspects, I find it really hard to comprehend that you shape your program solely based on who your attendees liked in the past — and around the names that we heard over and over again (my own name included). How are you every going to evolve by having the same persons giving the same talks?

This world is changing way too fast for that, and while they certainly are experts in the field of planning and strategy who can share valuable insights that are more or less sustainable over the longer periods of time, aren’t you afraid of telling the same story over and over again?

The most important thing is that by having a program that has only one woman, you are depriving the future talent of role models. I know what I am talking about. I am a woman in the advertising industry. I was also a graduate student doing my doctorate degree. I might have happily stayed in academia if I had a role model that could inspire me and that I could have looked up to.

Imagine if you are a young woman starting up today and having all but one man giving talks about the basics of brand planning, strategy and comms planning. It would have taken you longer to realize that that speaker could one day be you.

Do not underestimate the power of imitation. We do what others do. We are quicker to imitate those that are already like us. It’s easier. Imitating others saves us time and effort of figuring things out. It provides social coordination and social cohesion.

If women don’t have a model to imitate, they won’t adopt a behavior. If there aren’t women doing talks, lectures and getting exposure, there won’t be women to imitate them. There won’t be those who’d think “I can do that, too.”

Or, it will take them longer.

It’s already been way too long.

Thanks again for writing. Please let me know if/how I can help. Happy to send you recommendations, and hope to stay in touch.

All the best.


Monday, April 10th

Hi Ana, My name is Alexia Grau, Founder& Director at Hoala. I’m writing you because of your post in likedin. First of all I’d would like to say you’re completely right and I agree that we have to increase the representation of women in our program. We’ve done the impossible for trying to change that, but it’s something more complicated than it seems. We’ve had on board in the program Sarah Watson, Melissa Zimyeski, Lucy Jameson, Jessica Lovell…but due to different reasons some of them don’t repeat this year :- ( . On the other hand, when we have one lecturer (man or woman) who is totally acclaimed by the attendees is very difficult for us to make changes, and that’s the main reason why most of our lectures repeat each year. In fact (maybe you don’t believe me) you were one of the lecturers we wanted for the digital planning session, but finally we counted on Gareth Key again for this year. I’m so sorry if we transmit a bad image, far from our intention. I felt the need to write you and explain you the situation directly. I understand totally your point and I just wanted to say that we’re working on it. I hope we can keep in touch. All the best, Alexia.

Strategy Executive. Author of “The Business of Aspiration.” Doctor of Sociology. Forbes’ one of The World’s Most Influential CMOs.