A few years back, I read an article in The Spectator. It was by Madsen Pirie, the chairman of The Adam Smith Institute. He was writing about the phenomenon that, in the UK, girls were passing more exams than boys.
He was interested in the reason behind this. Some people thought it was because more girls were being allowed to take exams at higher level.
Madsen Pirie said this wasn’t the answer. Some people thought it was proof that girls have always been more intelligent, but until now they hadn’t been allowed to show it.
Madsen Pirie said this wasn’t the answer either. He said everyone was looking in the wrong place for the answer. The reason girls were passing more exams than boys wasn’t actually to do with girls’ intelligence at all.
It was to do with the exams themselves. At about the time when girls began passing more exams than boys, exams had changed. The examination authorities had begun giving 50% of the marks for the course work, done in the year leading up to the exam.
Previously, 100% of the marks had been for the final exam itself. Course work hadn’t counted for anything. This suited boys, who would do as little as possible all year, and cram like crazy in the last weeks before the exam.
Then it changed, and 50% of the marks were given for course work, this suited girls. Who would work steadily and conscientiously all year. So that, by the time of the final exam, they would already have more marks than the boys.
And, however hard the boys crammed for the final exam, it was only worth 50% of the marks. Madsen Pirie then interviewed a Cambridge don on the difference between male and female undergraduates.
He said that, generally speaking, the girls were better on the detail, but fuzzy on the big picture. The boys were better on the big picture but sloppy on the detail. He said his two best students were a male and a female, and they would both get ‘firsts’.
How does this work in advertising terms? Years ago Amanda Walsh, our CEO at the time, asked me why there were fewer women in the creative department than other departments.
She wanted to know if I thought it was just old fashioned sexism. I said I didn’t think so. The creative department is basically a big playground. Lots of time spent telling jokes, playing games, reading comics or books, watching reels or YouTube, basically (what looks like) time-wasting.
None of this is a problem as long as, by the deadline, you’ve managed to turn it into a great idea. Great ideas don’t happen slowly, incrementally, and conscientiously.
They tend to happen as a result of a short, intense period of cramming information and then a sudden explosion of creativity. More the way boys approach exams than the way girls do.
Account handling, on the other hand, requires exactly the opposite values. Constant attention to detail, an intuitive ability to read situations and feelings. conscientious application that ensures everything possible has been done as it needs to be.
In short, the account handling department gives a lot more marks for course work than the creative department does.