Cape Town

South Africa: Adland’s first gender representation survey

The SheSays Survey on Gender Representation, created in partnership with Kantar – one of the world’s leading data, insights and consulting companies – is a first for South Africa and for SheSays globally. This volunteer-based network supports women in the advertising and creative industries in over 55 cities across the world. Cape Town was the first chapter in Africa to join.

The full report, which looks at the major trends and offers insights from over 40 industry leaders as well as actionable advice to agencies on improving gender diversity and inclusivity status quo, was created in collaboration with M&C Saatchi Group South Africa. It is available to download here.

The aim of the survey was to engage the local agencies, media houses, digital agencies and related companies to get an accurate and current reading on the gender split across agencies. SheSays worked with the IAB, ACA and AMF to distribute the survey to their member agencies. One representative from each agency completed the survey, anonymously revealing gender numbers by rank and department. Results were aggregated by Kantar to keep participants anonymous.

A core group of 35 agencies participated in this inaugural survey, with M&C Saatchi Abel, Grey and Joe Public amongst those who got involved and showed their support for the initiative.


“The results of the SheSays Gender Representation Survey and the much-needed conversation around diversity and inclusivity in the workplace comes at an important time in our country. We can’t ignore the increase in gender-based violence taking place throughout society; and all industries, ours included, need to play their part.” says Mike Abel, Founding Partner & Chief Executive Officer, M&C Saatchi Abel. “We need to not only look internally to ensure real gender representation and respect across the spectrum is being addressed in the workplace, but we also need to look externally at the messages being sent, whether through the work we do or by what we say, to ensure that diversity, and gender representation, isn’t just a tick box exercise on an inclusivity agenda, but rather is the foundation of all inclusive and fair future business growth.”


The results show a strong female representation within the advertising and creative industry as a whole with 61% of roles fulfilled by women. However, it revealed clusters of male-dominated fields, predominantly at the Director/C-Suite levels and within Tech/IT departments: only 39% of senior creative roles (CCO/ECD/CD) and 43% of art director positions are held by women.


Says Neo Mashigo, Chief Creative Officer, M&C Saatchi Group South Africa, “It’s initiatives like the SheSays Gender Representation Survey that keep us as an industry accountable and ensure we continue to have the real – and difficult – conversations. While the results show that we are on the right track – M&C Saatchi Group South Africa for instance is made up of over 60% female – the results also show that there is a lot of work still to be done, work that I know will also be pivotal to my agenda as the chairperson of the Creative Circle.”


When it comes to digital design and UX, 73% of men hold positions as design directors/leads and the same percentage of men fulfil roles as UX designers. Just 22% of women hold positions in the business design sphere, encompassing UX architecture and interaction design. We also see a strong paradox in terms of female dominated research positions versus a largely male dominated business analytics field.


“An incredible achievement by SheSays Cape Town, and all survey participants, to set the benchmark for our current understanding of our industry’s representation across multiple roles and areas of access and expertise. This is our starting point for progress and a call to action for full industry participation,” says IAB SA CEO Paula Hulley.


The survey represented 72 agency roles and provided an opportunity to include non-traditional gender identification within each field, although no related data was recorded from the agencies who participated.


“Since starting the Cape Town chapter two years ago, it was always a dream to base our activism on true data – not anecdotal evidence. We want to thank all the agencies who took part in this survey, and hope many more can play their part in 2021 to help widen the net. The goal is for it to become a resource and reference point for industry. As pioneers in the female empowerment space globally, SheSays is all about helping more women get to the top. In future, we will focus more broadly on inclusivity, and help drive this conversation forward,” says SheSays director Anelde Greeff.


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