If we’re to judge by the sheer volume of International Women’s Day work and news that has flooded into Little Black Book this week, the 106-year-old event has never been more popular – particularly with the advertising industry and brands. But it did make me wonder: is it all a sign of substantial positive change in the industry or is it just feel good fluff and cynical opportunism?
The past year has been peppered with sexism scandals (most notably the allegations against Gustavo Martinez, and Kevin Robert’s attempt to double glaze the glass ceiling), so it’s interesting to see the industry amping up its IWD output. Is it a sign of a penitent industry, or simply a case of protesting too much? Or even a sign of some genuine change?
It’s hard to say. I’m tempted to say ‘all of the above’, but then I’m a cynical optimist (with all of the attendant cognitive dissonance that entails).
On one hand, the popularity of January’s Women’s March protests, an estimated 5 million people took part globally
, shows that the fight for women’s rights is currently having ‘a moment’. And brands do so like to get ‘involved in the conversation’ – whether that comes from a place of authenticity or not. So, the cynic might suspect that a fair chunk is coming from the brand clients or is driven by opportunistic tacticians.
However, that’s unlikely to be the whole story, and between the obvious, clunky cash-ins there have also been projects that are stunning in both their wisdom and beauty that I have to believe came from a place of truth. McCann New York’s ‘Fearless Girl’ bronze may well have the backing of a multi-trillion dollar asset manager, but the image of this immovable and brave girl standing firm in the face of the bull is undeniably moving. And in the age of disposable digital, the weighty permanence of bronze makes a statement of its own.
In the past year I think we have seen some interesting developments in the industry. Unilever’s directive to its agencies to ditch stereotypes
which they announced in Cannes, represents the ultimate change driver: client demand. In production, we saw #FreeTheBid
, launched by Alma Har’el and PJ Pereira and supported by global CCOs. We’ve yet to see whether the movement has resulted in a significant increase in the proportion of ads directed by women, but anecdotally I know female directors who are suddenly pitching on more (and more varied) ads.
This week, the Creative Equals’ kitemark, which accredits agencies that are working towards a 50:50 gender balance, was incorporated into matchmaker AAR’s online portal – suggesting that for some clients, the gender split is something that they’re looking at when choosing a new agency.
And there have been a few one-off rays of hope. Grey London’s news that Caroline Pay has joined Vicki Maguire as joint-CCO is cause for celebration. We’ve also been meeting some awesome new entirely female-founded agencies in the past year – Joan in New York, The Adventures Of in Berlin – that are so cool and fresh that one can’t help but feel optimistic about a female-fronted future. Some of the big, older agencies too seem to be trying to make changes. When designing the new Havas Village in London, I’ve heard that the possibility of including a school was part of the conversation – and even if the resultant facilities aren’t quite a whole school, I think it does show a commitment to addressing childcare and parenting difficulties, something that does, still, fall on the shoulders of women.
I think, or perhaps I hope… or perhaps I just want to think, that what we’re feeling is the crunching of a gear change. The industry is nowhere near where it needs to be, in terms of recruitment, in terms of culture and in terms of representation. And for every positive forward thrust, there will be a bigoted boss or sexist campaign pushing back. But this IWD did give me pause to think that maybe, at last, we’re seeing more than just talk when it comes to women in advertising.