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Diageo’s global chief marketing officer Syl Saller has personally written to every one of the advertising and media agencies on its roster asking to see statistics on gender diversity and pay gaps.

Individual managers for its brands, which include Baileys, Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Tanqueray, had been given the autonomy to ask these question of agency partners. However, as Gráinne Wafer, the global head of brand for Bailey’s, explained earlier this year, she had been met with “blank faces” from a number of bosses.

Saller - gatekeeper of the advertiser's £1.8bn global ad spend - has now stepped in and requested that all of its agencies report back on diversity measures. In the letter, which was sent in the last few weeks, she asked  for information including:

  • The percentage of women in the leadership team
  • The percentage of women in the creative leadership
  • Information on the gender pay gap

Among those likely to have received the note include VMLRY&R (Baileys ad agency), Anomaly (Captain Morgan and Johnnie Walker), AMV BBDO (Guinness), 72&Sunny (Smirnoff) and Carat, which handles the majority of Diageo's media account in the UK and US.

Some agencies, like AMV BBDO, publically revealed their pay gap statistics last year per a UK government mandate issued to any company with over 250 employees. However, there are many agencies Diageo works with which have less and are therefore not legally required to disclose.  

Saller also used the letter to detail the many initiatives Diageo has introduced in the past six months.   

In June, it reviewed its creative work globally to see where it needed to improve and then developed a comprehensive creative ‘framework’ for agencies to work against and a training programme for its 1200 marketers. It has also worked with third parties including the UN Unstereotype Alliance and Free the Bid, which aims to increase the number of female directors in the industry.

“Rather than just us all having conversations, which we were having, I have written to them all personally and said ‘right, here’s what we want and what we want you to share’. They don’t usually say no to me so I’m hoping by upping the ante a bit they will share,” she told The Drum.

In addition to their internal diversity statistics, she also wanted to know how agencies are partnering with other organisations – like Free the Bid – to progress the diversity agenda.

She was reticent to reveal what the consequence would be for any that failed to respond, simply saying she was “leaving that open.”

“But we recognise the reality of how difficult it is [for agencies],” she continued. “We want to know why there aren't more women creative directors [for example]; there’s a variety of answers but that’s one of the last bastions we need to understand.”

Within Diageo’s walls, 40% of its executive committee and 45% of its senior marketing leadership around the world are women.  It has also been ranked 4th in the Thomson Reuters Global Diversity and Inclusion Index.

“We’re not where we want to be as a company but setting that at the top and having those role models makes a massive difference in terms of it working at every level. If you look at junior levels it’s not hard to claim a 50/50 split but we’re holding ourselves account to that in our senior level leadership,” she said.

“It’s making a difference to the work and how quickly people have understood it especially in what are, in theory, some of our most difficult countries.”

Syl Saller has been nominated for the World Federation of Advertisers' global marketer of the year award. You can vote for her, and the other finalists, on the WFA website.