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About gender equality at JIN

Published on 08/03/2021

Interview by Eliott Maidenberg, for JIN, from Merve Liebelt, VP, and Edouard Fillias, CEO of the agency.
This year's theme for International Women's Rights Day is #ChooseToChallenge. What do you think about it?

Edouard Fillias: For the communications agency JIN, which has 80 employees, we asked ourselves whether we were living up to our teams' expectations in terms of equality. After experiencing rapid growth in recent years, the company is entering an age of maturity where it is important to ask questions. And to be legitimate in exerting a positive influence for our clients, we must also try to contribute as best we can to social progress.

Therefore, we asked the question through an internal survey: what do you think of this International Women's Rights Day? Do you think we should celebrate it? Do you think JIN lives up to expectations in terms of equal promotion, pay and treatment between the sexes?

We do not position ourselves as lesson givers: obviously a lot of progress remains to be made. Our goal is to make a statement of fact,to start a reflection together, and then to start changing things by defining a roadmap and objectives.

Merve Liebelt: It's important to challenge ourselves, because we don't know what we don't know. It's the notion of "unconscious bias": we may be under the impression that everything is fine, but it's because we don't ask the right questions, or even that we don't ask any questions.

It's a reality: men don't realize how women make decisions when it comes to their careers. The most obvious example being the choice between being a “good” mother and having a real career. The sheer fact that many women think about it (and I´d assume many men don´t) should tell us that maybe, it´s still an uphill battle to have both. At annual interviews, women often talk about the sacrifices they have to make if they accept a promotion, a notion I rarely - if ever - hear from men.

Even if women's rights are respected in legal terms, more needs to be done to ensure equality and a female- friendly corporate attitude.

What do you think of JIN's performance in terms of equality?

E.F.: First of all, some statistics: JIN has as many women as men. Men at JIN are paid on average 1.4% more than women. A gap that is getting narrower: this year, after the annual interviews in January, we see that women have experienced a 3.4% higher salary increase than men. As of January 2021, in the group of people with a Senior or Director level, which are the two highest career levels at JIN, there are 24 people, 9 of whom are women. At Director level, there are 10 people, including 4 women. In our Management Committee, which is composed of 5 people, set up in July 2020, there is 1 woman.

These statistics shed light on a major issue: we have not been able to sufficiently encourage women's careers in the agency's top leadership, as well as at the Senior and Director levels. This is a clear area for improvement for our organization. By mobilizing our values of entrepreneurship, responsibility and autonomy, we are going to identify the talent we will need tomorrow, including women's talent, of course.

M.L.: I run an almost exclusively female office, the German office, which is very successful and has grown well in 2020 despite the pandemic. My personal assessment is that JIN's culture is in majority based on meritocracy, it respects performance. But to be fair, I entered the company at executive level so I cannot speak to how it is to go through the ranks at JIN. I also think statistics don´t necessarily always portray well that women sometimes have to do better to start with to be recognized in a predominantly male driven business society.

Fortunately, at JIN I have not yet had a situation where a woman came to me and complained about an issue at work rooted in sexism, whereas I have had that experience in my previous work life. At JIN, I feel there is a willingness to explore these issues at the highest level. JIN is not afraid to put her finger on it, see what is wrong and try to fix it.

And while the statistics generally seem encouraging, we should look at the specific and individual challenges. We may be doing 92% ok but that means we need to look at the 8% of personal stories where challenges are still present.

You conducted an internal employee survey. What are the key findings?

E.F.: In their responses to this survey, our employees expressed a very strong concern for gender equality issues. They all considered International Women's Rights Day to be an important symbolic moment, to show how much the march of women towards positions of responsibility was both an objective and an achievement. 75% of them felt that this moment should be celebrated.

As far as JIN is concerned, the employees gave us very clear messages. On the one hand, and this is a relief, none of them consider that the company offers a hostile environment or hinders women's careers. On the other hand, they pointed to a lack of transparency in the compensation system in general, and in particular with regard to equal pay.

Staff also noted that while JIN did not discriminate against women, no policies seemed particularly in place to support them or promote equality. Equality which, looking at our figures, does not always come naturally. The fact is that many have called for the emergence of more women in top leadership, in management bodies and in the steering of key projects. They have asked us to better communicate the successes of female employees on an equal footing with men.

M.L.: It appears that there is a lack of female role models to give inspiration and show that one can have a different management style. Another point I have observed: women at senior and director level have no children, while men seem to be able to reconcile parenthood and work. Does this mean that our meritocracy makes it difficult to access motherhood? I personally cannot comment because it wasn´t a decision I was faced with, but I could imagine reconciling the two would be a challenge. Either way, it´s a question we need to ask ourselves and explore.

How do you engage with these issues? What would you like to have accomplished by next year?

E.F.: We need to ask ourselves about the statistics and the qualitative feedback from the survey launched on the occasion of this day. This is a subject on which I think we need to set up a project group, bringing together members of the Management Committee, the CSE and employees of different levels and experience.

However, a few actions seem to be a priority:

- We must be particularly vigilant about the moments of parenting. For both men and women it is a disruption in their professional life, and it is obvious that for women it can be even more destabilizing. It seems to me that we must adopt a policy to support these moments, before leaving and when returning from parental leave, in line with the legislation of each of our countries of operation, but whose philosophy would be shared by all. It is a matter of offering maximum comfort and security, as well as the material assistance required (crèche, childcare). It is a path of progress. In fact, we have already proposed a subsidy for daycare places for employees.

- We need to raise awareness, probably through training and internal dialogue, among JIN's management on equality issues. It is an external training that we will identify this year. It seems important to me to ensure that these notions are embodied in the daily life of the company, from the running of meetings, to the attitude in the open space, through the recruitment process.

- Each year, we will publish our equality statistics and provide an update on the progress of these issues at JIN, as we are required to do.

It seems reasonable to me to set a goal of achieving full parity at Senior and Director level within two years (currently 40% female ratio). I also think it would be desirable for other women to join our Management Committee in the next two years, in addition to Merve Liebelt.

M.L.: To achieve this objective, I don't think we should question our meritocratic model, but we should probably be more intentional in the way we recruit, for example by ensuring parity in the candidates considered for senior and director positions. I have mixed feelings about affirmative action policy – but my personal feelings should not substitute a clear company policy. And that holds true not just for JIN`s stance on women´s advancement in the company but for diversity in general. We need an open company culture and make a point about bringing together different cultures, ethnicities and genders (which we know isn’t just women and men) And I want to see that kind of diversity at the highest levels of the company.

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