Over the past 100 years, women have made great strides in the business world. According to the Women's Business Enterprise National Council, women own 40% of all businesses.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for marketing agencies: Only 220 of the 22,000 North American ad agencies are owned by women or nonbinary people. That split isn't fair or equitable, and people are starting to notice.

Why aren't more women stepping into agency ownership positions?

It's not that they don't want to. Rather, some women who have held leadership positions were never invited to apply for ownership or join succession-planning discussions. They might have been promoted to C-suite roles, but they were never coached on how to become agency owners.

Without any available opportunities, gender disparity grew.

Luckily, change is brewing. Current women agency owners want to lift other women to their level. They are excited to teach, mentor, and learn.

That's why, for instance, Christy Hiler and Jean Freeman, two women who own agencies, started the Own It initiative, which aims to help women overcome real and perceived barriers to agency ownership.

The agency world needs women owners' talents and expertise. But how can you pave the way for more women founders and CEOs? Here are three steps to help you change the course of the industry for the better.

1. Succession-plan with women in mind

If you are an agency owner, you know you won't be running things forever. Whom will you hand the keys to? You could easily influence the next generation of agency owners by taking a women-first approach to succession-planning.

For instance, you can talk with your team leaders to see whether there are any women who might want to be in charge of continuing the agency vision you have created. From there, you can evaluate who already exhibits owner-like traits and invest in training to further their potential.

Alternatively, if you plan on putting your agency on the market, you can consider working with a broker who focuses on matching women owners with businesses.

2. Talk about career-pathing with women leaders

Extending the freedom of ownership to the women in your agency can be as simple as speaking with talented employees.

Perhaps they need to hear that you are not the only one who could have the privilege of being an owner. Or maybe they have contemplated the idea of ownership, but they don't have a road map. You could work with them to construct career paths. Even if it might take them away from agency work for a day, it will be worth it in the long run.

Career-pathing involves structuring a framework to get from today to some point in the future. Not enough people generate career paths, which is a shame. Seeing a career path that's clear and doable can serve as a huge motivator, particularly for a woman with agency-ownership dreams.

Just opening the door a little by bringing up the subject with one of your team members could initiate change.

3. Prepare women for the reality of ownership

Being an owner is different from being a leader, supervisor, manager, or executive. Owners have significantly more responsibilities. However, the higher stakes can be well worth it—because owners get the chance to create their ideal workplace and brand.

Instead of allowing agency ownership to seem like some kind of mystical, magical experience, talk to the women you know who might be interested in learning more about it. Be honest and vulnerable. Let the curtain down and share both the good and the bad.

For instance, the first year or two of ownership can be a struggle. But once you gain experience, you can do even more than you could as an employee. I was able to take three-week trips with my daughter because I was an owner who had given my employees accountability and authority. That is a priceless benefit well worth the initial tradeoffs.

* * *

It doesn't have to take decades for the agency world to empower more women owners. Through initiatives such as Own It and the efforts of independent leaders, the industry can become more equitable across the board.

More Resources on Woman-Owned Agencies and Women in Marketing

The State of Woman-Owned Small Businesses [Infographic]

Eight Tips to Help Woman Marketers Better Market Themselves

How Gender-Diverse Is the Digital Marketing Industry?

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image of Drew McLellan

Drew McLellan is the CEO of Agency Management Institute, a company serving 250+ agencies to help the owners build profitable agencies that evolve and scale.

LinkedIn: Drew McLellan

Twitter: @DrewMcLellan