Diageo CMO: “Too few women are in creative leadership positions”

Syl Saller, CMO of Diageo has called on the industry to increase the number of women in creative leadership roles, rolling out the #CreativeComeback scheme to the US and India.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


Diageo has signed up to sponsor the international roll out of Creative Equals #CreativeComeback scheme, supporting 100 women to return to the creative industries after taking a career break for a year or more.

Syl Saller, CMO of Diageo, said that while she is pleased to see more women entering the boardrooms of agencies, too few are in creative leadership positions. She explained, “I am convinced that diversity in creative leadership leads to better and more effective work. It’s time for concerted action that will close the creative leadership gap.”

With this in mind Diageo is stepping up its sponsorship of the #CreativeComeback scheme, which will now be rolled out into the US and India. The international undertaking comes in the midst of a comprehensive programme by Diageo to accelerate gender equality. The drinks giant has created a framework for progressive gender advertising, as well as a training programme for all its marketers and agencies around the world.

Last year 58 women underwent the course in London and Manchester and completed placements at a variety of agencies. One successful creative team from last year’s course landed a role at adam&eveDDB and have successfully launched creative work for John Lewis. A total of 15 of the returners landed permanent roles, making a dent on the lack of representation.

I am convinced that diversity in creative leadership leads to better and more effective work. It’s time for concerted action that will close the creative leadership gap.

Syl Saller

Closing the gap

The #CreativeComeback takes place as the advertising industry struggles to close the gap in creative leadership roles and push towards more progressive gender portrayal in advertising.

In the UK advertising industry, according to Creative Equals, women make up only 16% of creative directors. Research from Creative Equals also shows that 12% of women plan to leave the industry within the next two years, making attracting and retaining a more diverse talent pool business critical.

There is a red thread between the lack of diversity in creative outputs and the continued reliance on outdated stereotypes in advertising. In India, research by Kantar and Diageo into the top 150 Indian adverts across sectors found that 29% showed outdated gender stereotypes or needed improvement in terms of gender portrayal.

Ali Hanan, Founder of Creative Equals said the scheme aims to shift the perception of CV gaps. She explains, “These moments where life happens are creativity’s gifts, and yet ‘time out’ is a barrier to coming back to work. We also know ageism is a challenge, and while 70% of the UK’s income is held by those over 50, just 6% of our workforce sits in this age bracket. We know who makes the work shapes the work, so to produce better, more innovative ideas we need diverse perspectives with those from all walks of life at the table to represent the audiences we serve.”   

Sarra Yaya, Associate Creative Director who took part in the 2019 #CreativeComeback programme added, “Since completing the training program, I’ve gone from strength to strength. I worked on several projects for Baileys, three successful pitches and have now taken an Associate Creative Director role at an agency who are supporting me to work flexibly to juggle work and look after my two-year-old. I couldn’t have done this without the confidence, drive and reboot the #CreativeComeback programme gave me.”

The programme will take place in London, running across International Women’s Day from the 2nd-12th March, followed by New York from the 23rd March to the 2nd April and Mumbai in September and October; 195 women from across the creative industries applied for a place on last year’s scheme.

Launching the scheme last year Diageo’s Saller noted that it is no longer enough to talk about ambitions for change, instead “we need concerted action to turn the dial.” Grainne Wafer, Baileys’ Global Brand Director, who has been a vocal advocate of the need for greater diversity across the creative industries, added, "There is a wealth of top female talent and experience leaving the creative industries that we cannot afford to lose.”

To find out more about #CreativeComeback or to apply, visit the Creative Equals website.

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