International Women’s Day: The State of Digital Agency Leadership in the North

By Francessca Reynoldson

May 15, 2024 8 min read

Home / Agency News / International Women’s Day: The State of Digital Agency Leadership in the North

On March 8th, we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), highlighting women’s rights and gender equality worldwide. It’s a day for reflecting on the progress made and recognising where more change needs to happen. This year’s theme is “Inspire Inclusion”, which celebrates women from all backgrounds, regardless of race, faith, age and ability.

We wanted to examine gender equality in our industry and see how many women are in agency leadership positions in 2024. To do so, we’ve analysed the top 50 digital agencies in the North (according to Prolific North), finding out many of their directors (and other board member positions such as CEO) are women. 

Gender Distribution Among Northern Agency Leadership Teams in 2024
Directors (%)69%31%

Across the agencies that had public information available, 69% of directors and other leaders were men, meaning that just under a third were women. While we’re certainly seeing more women in leadership roles in the industry, these figures show that there is still a gender gap.
Agency Leadership Gender Representation: A Closer Look
Agencies with more female leaders than men39%
Agencies with 50% or more female leaders824%
Agencies with 30% or more female leaders1853%
Agencies with 20% or more female leaders2782%
Female CEO/Managing Director/Founder39%
Agencies with 0 female leaders617%

In addition, just 9% of these agencies have more women than men in these leadership positions. This increases slightly to 24% if we look at agencies with a split of 50:50 or more.

53% of agencies have at least 30% women directors, but for the majority, women make up just one in five of their directors. 82% of agencies have 20% or more women directors.

Regarding those at the top of their respective agencies, just 9% of those on the list had a woman CEO, managing director or founder.

And the number of agencies with zero women representation among their directors was over a quarter, with 17% having no women leaders.

But how does this compare to the broader UK economy?

The latest FTSE Women Leaders report shows that for FTSE 100 companies, the number of women in leadership positions and on boards is 35.2%. While the methodologies used may differ slightly, this is about 6% higher than the 50 agencies in our study. 

How does Digitaloft compare?

Digitaloft Gender Split
Men (%)Women (%)
Whole agency32%68%

So, how does Digitaloft compare in terms of women’s leadership? We’re proud to say that two of our three directors are women, but we’ve got women in leadership roles throughout the agency.

Of our leadership team, 80% are women, which is almost 90% for the wider management team! In fact, just over two-thirds of all employees at the agency are women.

What can the wider industry do to close the gap?

While the figures for the wider industry might paint a worrying picture, the overall number of women is high, suggesting that change in these leadership roles is pretty close. But what can agencies do to play their part?

  • Mentorship and networking: Encouraging mentorship programs and professional networks for women in PR can help foster talent and facilitate career advancement.
  • Flexible work arrangements: Adopting policies that support work-life balance, such as flexible working hours and remote work options, directly addresses the unique challenges women often face, including caregiving responsibilities and health-related needs. This approach helps retain talent and supports women’s career progression by accommodating their life stages and well-being.
  • Gender equity policies: Implementing and enforcing policies that promote gender equity, including equal pay for equal work and transparent promotion criteria, are essential to achieving gender parity in leadership roles.
  • Education and training: Investing in education and professional development opportunities for women in PR can empower them with the skills and knowledge needed to excel in leadership positions.

Why do women make great leaders?

The thing is, it’s in agencies’ best interests to have women in leadership positions! Research from McKinsey has shown that companies in the top 25% for gender equality were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than those at the bottom. Women can make great leaders for various reasons. Here are some key factors that make women great leaders:

  • Emotional intelligence: Women often demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, empathy, and the ability to manage relationships effectively. These skills are crucial for understanding team dynamics, motivating employees, and building solid client relationships.
  • Collaborative approach: Women are more likely to employ a collaborative approach to leadership. This style encourages team involvement in decision-making processes, fosters a sense of belonging and commitment among team members, and can lead to more innovative solutions to problems. This is evidenced by a study by Dr Alice Eagly, which found that women are often “transformational” leaders.
  • Resilience and adaptability: Women have been shown to exhibit resilience and adaptability, which are essential for navigating the complexities of leadership roles. The ability to withstand pressure, bounce back from setbacks, and adapt to changing circumstances is invaluable in maintaining a team’s direction and morale. We can see this in a study that found that countries led by women handled the coronavirus pandemic better.
  • Inclusive leadership: Women leaders often prioritise inclusivity, ensuring diverse voices are heard and valued. This inclusiveness can lead to better decision-making and more equitable workplaces, as well as fostering an environment where all team members can thrive.
  • Strong communication skills: Effective communication is a cornerstone of successful leadership. Women are often effective communicators, adept at articulating ideas, setting clear expectations, and providing constructive feedback, all essential for guiding teams and driving organisational goals.
  • Ethical decision-making: Studies have suggested that women prioritise ethical considerations and corporate social responsibility more than their men counterparts. This focus can enhance an agency’s reputation, strengthen client relationships, and contribute to long-term success.
  • Perspective and diversity: Women leaders bring diverse perspectives to agencies, which is crucial for innovation, problem-solving, and understanding customer needs. Diversity in leadership has been linked to better financial performance and more creative teams. For example, a 2021 Harvard Business School report found that businesses became more open to change after appointing women to their management teams.

Amy Irvine, Digital PR Director: “As a woman in leadership, I embrace the responsibility to dismantle barriers, cultivate diversity, and empower others to reach their full potential. Taking on the role of Digital PR Director at Digitaloft has allowed me to establish my own blended approach to leadership, combining strategic and creative thinking with compassion, empathy and resilience. In every step I take as a woman in leadership, I strive to rewrite the narrative, redefine possibilities, and shape a world where our voices as women can help inspire others.

“We know that we’re not perfect at Digitaloft, and we have a number of things that we need to work on but I am proud that as an agenc,y we have multiple women in management and leadership positions, with 80% of our leadership team being women.”

Nina Edwards Digitaloft

Nina Edwards, Commercial Director: “As a woman in a directorial role and a mother of two children, I have been navigating the balance between family life and a full-time marketing career for the last 13 years. This journey has taught me to value the complexity of being a woman in leadership. Juggling the demands of having a family alongside the responsibilities of my role in the agency has taught me invaluable skills in time management, empathy and resilience. While it has been challenging at times, I find immense fulfilment in proving to myself and other women that it’s possible to have it all – a thriving career, a work-life balance that includes quality time with my family, and the opportunity to make a meaningful impact in the agency world.

“My journey as a working mother has taught me to fight for the importance of inclusivity and flexibility in the workplace. It has shown me the boundless potential of women in leadership roles, and I truly believe that we are paving the way for future generations to pursue their passions without compromise. I feel proud to be a part of this movement and am committed to continuing to advocate for the importance of women’s leadership and work-life balance.”


We analysed each agency listed on the Prolific North Top 50 Digital Agencies 2023. We used the “Meet the Team” page of each to note the gender of each director. This meant anybody with the word “director” in their job role and anybody with a top-level role such as founder, managing director, or CEO. Any agencies which didn’t have the information posted publicly on their site were excluded.

Public information such as Twitter/X and LinkedIn profiles, company websites and any mentions in news articles were used to ascertain gender based on the pronouns used.

Additional data sourced from the latest FTSE Women Leaders report.

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