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John Steedman on Women in Media

On International Women's Day 2015, GroupM announced their new NCo initiative with the overall aim of acheiving a 50/50 ratio of women to men in senior roles by 2016. To reach this a number of plans have been put in place including increases in maternity and paternity leave.

As part of MediaScope's Women in Media series GroupM's Chairman & CEO, John Steedman, has offered deeper insights into NCo through this Q&A...
  • Name: John Steedman
  • Company: Group M
  • Role: Chairman & CEOWomen in Media - John Steedman - GroupM

What is your industry background, your role and what do you actually do? 

I have been in the media industry for more than 40 years, since my first job in the dispatch department of McCann Erickson as a 16-year-old. I now run GroupM’s Australian operation. GroupM is the leading global media investment management operation and our businesses include Maxus, MEC, MediaCom and Mindshare. 

Please outline your views on the state of the general media industry? 

The media landscape has changed dramatically and irrevocably over the past five years. We have seen an explosion in media channels, data, content, and a shift in the balance of power. Plus, we have been experiencing tough market conditions for a number of years now. In this environment, it’s important to keep innovating, both in terms of adding value to our clients’ business and internally within our own business and with our people.

GroupM has recently announced NCo to promote greater gender diversity within it's leadership roles. What is NCo and please outline the aims of this initiative?

NCo is another GroupM initiative which empowers the next generation of industry superstars where they are given a say in how to run the company.


The NCo committee consists of 14 of our brightest employees aged under 30, from across all of our agencies. We asked them to propose initiatives to help GroupM achieve a 50:50 ratio of men and women in leadership roles. Currently, women hold 39% of GroupM leadership roles. We’ve implemented all the initiatives put forward by NCo, and they are:

  • Maternity and paternity leave policy: increased to 16 weeks’ paid leave for women (from 12 weeks), and 4 weeks for men, to improve the transition from parenthood back into the workforce.
  • GroupM Path Sponsorship program: a new sponsorship program in which promising young individuals are partnered with a ‘sponsor’ – a senior person within their agency, who will then be held accountable for the sponsee’s training and development.
  • The Floor is Closed initiative: to address the misconception that part-time and remote workers don’t produce the same level of output as their full-time colleagues, GroupM will close the floor in a symbolic gesture to demonstrate its commitment to creating flexible workplace conditions. For one day in April, GroupM employees will not be showing up to their desks and instead will work remotely with the goal of learning that their output doesn't rely on the hours they sit at their desks.
  • Childcare Centre: recognising that it is more expensive to put a child through daycare than it is to put them through university, we are investigating the creation of a GroupM childcare centre to enable its people to easily return to the workforce after they have children.

Why is there a need to introduce NCo into your business?

In challenging times, company culture is more important than ever – it can have a huge impact on results for clients, on fostering innovation and on improving staff retention. We have a lot of bright people working for us, so it made sense to listen to them and implement their ideas for improving our internal culture and the benefits we provide to our employees.

How were the initiatives within NCo arrived at?

NCo members meet regularly to discuss and respond to briefs from GroupM management on how we can improve our business for the benefit of our employees, and consequently for the benefit of our clients. We presented them with the 50:50 gender diversity goal and they investigated solutions that could make a real difference. That included legal and insurance issues surrounding the establishment of a childcare centre, which we are working through right now.

What are the financial and business impacts of the NCo programme?

The NCo programme has had a real and tangible impact on the GroupM business through the implementation of initiatives that affect every employee. In particular, the improved maternity and paternity scheme makes a huge difference to mums and dads within our organisation and they have NCo to thank for that. Once we launch a childcare centre, that impact will be even greater.

There has been commentary about a ‘boys club’ culture in our industry and the challenges a business and co-workers face with team members on maternity and part time working arrangements. How do you respond to this?

It’s accurate to say that a boys’ club mentality existed in our industry in the past, but that’s no longer the case. At GroupM we have some great women in leadership roles, such as Mindshare CEO Katie Rigg-Smith, Mediacom Brisbane managing director Nicole Boyd, Maxus Melbourne managing director Karly Fragiacomo and MEC Brisbane managing partner Jane Sullivan among others. And with the 50:50 goal, we are putting a real stake in the ground around the issue of gender diversity.

Obviously co-workers have to cover for maternity leave and this can be challenging, however we try and get temp help or contract people to help out and ease the workload.  In most situations the team and clients are happy and joyful for the parents. I think part time workers as a resource are extremely productive and even if they work from home they are efficient & effective, they should be considered valuable members of the team.

What insights and advice can you offer other media businesses to improve their gender diversity policy?

At the end of the day, it comes down to company culture. Management has to be committed to the goal of diversity – and that includes diversity of cultures, skills and socio-economic backgrounds, not just gender – and they have to put in place targets and tangible programs that promote diversity.



Women in Media - GroupMGroupM is the leading global media investment management operation. It serves as the parent company to WPP media agencies including MAXUS, Mediacom, MEC and Mindshare. Our primary purpose is to maximise the performance of WPP’s media communications agencies on behalf of our clients, our shareholders and our people by operating as a parent and collaborator in performance-enhancing activities such as trading, content creation, sports, digital, finance, proprietary tool development and other business-critical capabilities. The agencies that comprise GroupM are all global operations in their own right with leading market positions.  The focus of GroupM is the intelligent application of physical and intellectual scale to benefit trading, innovation, and new communication services, to bring competitive advantage to our clients and our companies.


Women in Media - She SaysSheSays - is a global networking organisation to support women in advertising, media, marketing and creative. It's entirely free and everyone involved is a volunteer. Come and join us at our next event. Find out more here - & join the SheSays Facebook page. 



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