Why don’t men and women talk anymore?

Fixing the communication gap at the heart of our industry is key to equality, writes Victoria Brooks as she introduces Bloom’s 2020 Exchange programme.

Victoria Brooks, Bloom

Vice President 2019 // Inclusion & Strategy Consultant


You’ve heard about the gender pay gap, but what about the gender communication gap? For an industry that prides itself on creating clear and compelling campaigns, it’s ironic that we don’t talk about the communications challenge that sits at the heart of our own businesses.

We must start talking about it, as it’s holding back our progress. 

There is no doubt that the #metoo movement and the rise of industry initiatives have had a powerful effect on galvanising women. But this call for justice and equality is actually driving an unexpected wedge between the sexes in the workplace.  A recent Lean-In.org survey found that 60% of male managers are uncomfortable mentoring, working alone, or socialising with women in their workplace now. That’s a 32% jump from a year ago.

For some men, the fear of mis-stepping has led them to feel like they are walking on eggshells and with a less open dialogue between the sexes, we guess more, we assume more and we understand each other less.

In Bloom’s anonymous Booth of Truth, one man in the industry explained, “Men can be afraid of dealing with gender issues. On the one hand we are scared of ‘breaking ranks’ with male peers, or on the other hand we fear being ‘taken down’ by female peers.”

We had a hunch that this divide could be bridged with truly disruptive, radically candid conversation between men and women.

Victoria Brooks

An opportunity for brave conversations

So, where does this leave us as an industry? At Bloom, we believe it leaves us with a great opportunity to step outside our echo chambers and start opening up some brave conversations with men. 

We started by trying to diagnose the problem. It turns out that 76% of women felt that they did not understand the challenges facing men in the industry. And 93% of men felt that they did not understand the challenges facing women in the industry. Now that is what I would call a profound communication gap.

We had a hunch that this divide could be bridged with truly disruptive, radically candid conversation between men and women. In 2019, Bloom created the idea of ‘The Exchange’, a cross-mentoring programme between 23 industry-leading C-suite men and 23 Bloom women which aimed to disrupt and bridge the gap.

Bloom women mentored C-level men on how best to retain, promote and better collaborate with female talent within their company. In parallel, the men mentored Bloom women on how to overcome the barriers to leadership in their own career and how to better collaborate with men in their business.

Starting a bold, honest dialogue between the sexes aimed to help break down this silent stalemate and turn it into productive conversation.


Spearheading significant change

We encouraged each pair to engage in four conversations over six months and to confront uncomfortable topics of money, power dynamics, insecurities, sexual harassment, failures, successes, parenthood, mental health. The results blew us away.

At the start of The Exchange, only 13% of the participants were clear on the actions which would positively impact the gender divide in their workplace. By the end, 68% knew what actions they personally could take to make a positive impact and surprisingly, they actually spearheaded significant change in the midst of the six-month pilot.  

Hiring policies were changed, emotional load trackers were created, replica internal cross-mentoring programmes were kick-started, and maternity returner programmes were instituted.

In the end, 75% of the women in The Exchange said they understood the challenges facing men in the industry and 64% of the men felt they understood the challenges facing women in the industry. That, for us, is proof that the gender communications gap we face can be bridged through radically candid conversation.

What next in these turbulent times?

The impact of our Exchange pilot was marked, accelerating change and triggering real action in each of the companies involved. Now, we aim to extend this impact to more of the industry by taking last year’s pilot to the next level in 2020.

In the context of COVID-19 and the pivotal Black Lives Matter movement, the 2020 Exchange programme will tackle inclusive leadership, flexible working and racial bias. For both genders, this is an opportunity to start talking ‘for real’ about real challenges and real change.

We need men and women to talk. The only way to create true change is to do it together.

Martin Galvin, Digital Trading Director, Group M:

“The Exchange programme was the single best thing I was involved with last year, and whilst I’d expected it to be rewarding, I had no idea how useful it would be for me professionally, and personally. Getting a first-hand perspective on the micro, macro, and plain aggressive aggressions that faced some of the women in our industry was shocking, depressing and genuinely eye opening. 

I would implore every single man in our industry to apply to take part, to brace yourselves for a stark breakdown of your own privilege as an industry male, and to be prepared to confront your own patterns of behaviour to really let you work out if you’re part of the problem. Generally, the less you think this programme is for you, the more urgently you should seek to be a part of it.”


The Exchange 2020 opens on Friday, July 3rd for applications.

For the full results from The Exchange pilot, read the report here.

Bloom_TheExchange_4Jun2019_©BronacMcNeill_LR-17422 (1).jpg

Photography © Bronac McNeill

Guest Author

Victoria Brooks, Bloom

Vice President 2019 // Inclusion & Strategy Consultant ,


Victoria is an inclusion and strategy consultant, focused on creating stories that inspire cultural change. With over 20 years in the communications industry, Victoria has led brand strategy teams on both sides of the Atlantic in advertising agencies including Fallon, BBH and Naked Communications. Victoria was the 2019 Vice President of ad industry women’s organisation Bloom and is now a trustee and strategic advisor to the leadership team. Victoria conceived of Bloom's anonymous platform for women's real voices to be heard, the Booth of Truth in 2017 and curated Bloom’s 2018 and 2019 Achieving Your Potential and BloomFest events, aimed at tackling the most taboo barriers to women's success in the communications industry, including ageism, classism, sexual harassment and mental health. To tackle the gender communications gap between men and women in the industry, Victoria co-designed a ground-breaking cross-mentoring pilot, The Exchange, to allow a refreshingly honest dialogue between the sexes, leading to significant changes in policy and behaviour in leading companies within the creative industries. Victoria was named a Pitch 100 Superwoman in 2019 and is one of the 30 industry leaders in the IPA's inaugural iList this year.

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