It’s about business growth, SheSays

Issue 43 | June 2017

Who makes the work we see, and why that matters, has always been a central motivation for me. From my early days at Aussie cyberfeminist platform “geekgirl", to the agency that we have created at Mr President, it’s been a constant thread throughout my career. 

Ten years ago, Ale Lariu and myself founded SheSays, a volunteer organisation to actively drive gender equality in creative businesses. We met because wherever we were invited on stage we seemed to be two of the only creative women in digital. Looking around our agencies we felt just as out of place. So we decided to change things through action, not just conversation, We created an organisation that lifts women up, trains them and supports them in their creative careers. We have grown to a global network of over 40,000 women around the world in 20 countries and seen the fruits of our actions. 

Gender equality has gone from a ’nice-to-have' with little commitment to change to a proven driver of business and creative success. More women are entering creative, design and tech than ever before. More senior women are stepping into the limelight. But ten years later and there’s still a long way to go. Female faces disappear, particularly as you move up the ladder. Female CCOs like myself still only make up 5% of our ranks. But why does this even matter? 

Gender diversity matters because creativity is dependent on different points of view, and experiences. The richer the creative inputs, the more interesting, honest, unique and genuinely engaging our work can be. Be it gender or any number of other voices currently under-represented, the cost to creativity of cookie-cutter staff is the same: dull work that only resonates with a narrow slice of culture. 

There are more divergent female voices now in advertising, less stereotyping, and some great examples of work. One of my recent favorites is Bodyform Blood, which struck a chord with its uncompromising view of strong (and bloody) women as physically and emotionally powerful. However, there is still so much to do to fix the portrayal issue in our work. We won’t get there without female representation remaining part of the story all the way to the top of the creative tree. And, for that, senior women need platforms to be seen as creative hard-hitters as much as change agents. 

As we’re seeing the slow progress (but increased conversation) about who shapes, leads and judges our creative work, we’re seeing similar progress in the work itself. Overall, there’s been a glacial improvement the way women are represented and how they’re spoken to in advertising. There are some bold and iconic pieces (which we’re all familiar with) that break the mould, and perhaps allow the industry to pat themselves on the back more than we really should. But figures around female creatives are still diabolical (29% across creative departments, 12% of creative directors, 5% ECD/CCO) and for every ‘Like a Girl’ there’s a thousand pieces of bad advertising that put us back in our box. 

We need to move from tokenism to normalisation - both of female creative leadership and of a multiplicity of voices around womanhood. We need to celebrate women for their kick-ass creative abilities and not just as change agents. We need to be allowed to talk about more than the experience of being a woman in the industry, we need to use those experiences alongside the rest of our authentic selves to change the nature of creativity for the better. 

So this year at the Cannes Lions Festival, SheSays and The Voice of a Woman have created The VOWSS Festival to showcase the very best global work creatively directed or directed by women in the last year. We have over 3 hours of programming across the week, showcasing not only amazing creative women, but their incredible work with many any different voices by many women in many genres. A celebration of different points of view and a platform for them to shine. Mr President are proud to support the event because we believe that the future of our industry is about creating agencies that thrive on difference of experience, and the work it inspires. To ask the bravest questions, and deliver the boldest answers, you need to invest in the broadest set of experiences. You could call it being a purposeful agency, or call it a shrewd business decision. We believe it’s both.

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