The marketing industry not only needs to be proud of its lionesses – but make them visible too

This article was originally posted on The Drum.

Last year was the first that Cannes Lions put gender equality visibly on its agenda, with far more female panel and jury members than ever before and the introduction of the Glass Lions, showcasing some fantastic work that represents gender more positively and progressively.

And amazingly (this is the 21st century, after all), our industry is in great need of a Lion “for change’ in creativity. In the past 15 years of Cannes entries globally, only 11 per cent of creative directors, 9 per cent of executive creative directors and 8 per cent of chief creative officers have been female. The global figure as of 2008 was an appalling 3.6 per cent.
This level of disparity amongst the people who create advertising is not only fundamentally unfair and morally wrong, it is also very bad for business. In media, while gender parity is slightly better, there is still imbalance in favour of men in the most senior roles.

Advertisers need to speak women, arguably more so than they do to men. It is women who wield household purchase power. It is women who make 85 per cent of all purchase decisions across every single vertical. That includes cars and technology, not just cosmetics and cleaning products! Research by Creative Equals finds that 91 per cent of female consumers feel that advertisers don’t understand them, while 70 per cent actually feel “alienated” by advertising.

And so to this year’s festival, where I observe a vocal and visible female narrative that is actually setting the agenda. Cindy Gallop, Madonna Badger and Anna Wintour have led Quartz’s Cannes Daily brief over the past three days.

It is Madonna Badger’s deeply personal and poignant call to stamp out the objectification of women, with the #WomenNotObjects campaign, that promises to finally shift the discourse, by calling on the industry itself to pledge against colluding with the highly damaging norm.

This year, we also have the follow-up to Mcgarrybowen’s brilliant Cannes Lionessesproject to highlight winning female creative talent since the Lions began in 1954 and inspire tomorrow’s winners. Doubtless, it will also highlight a dearth of female winners over the festival’s history. When only 267 of a pool of thousands of winners were female last year, we definitely need to move the dial.

And I am honoured to be one of a record number of women judges at Cannes Lions this year, and especially to be one of four Turkish judges, all of whom are women. This year female judges make up 40 per cent of all the juries in Cannes. It is a significant and positive leap from last year’s 31 per cent, however on the Media Lions awarding jury it was down to only 23 per cent. Bearing in mind that women make up roughly half the global population, we are not yet at an accurate representation.

So what can we do, as an entire industry, to help improve the number of Lionesses not just in creative roles, but also in media and in tech?

Clearly, female talent is not going to be recognised unless it can flourish, and this means equipping people with the practical skills and tools to thrive in their careers.

At Maxus, we launched ‘Walk the Talk’, a global female empowerment programme held initially for 200 of our senior women. Now, we’re building on the positive impact of the initial experience with a double-pronged action plan of internal events and taking the experience out externally.

The latter is important here. Visibility is a crucial factor in bringing diversity to bear and helping to shift ingrained cultural bias. At Maxus we’re doing well on female representation – we need to improve how we represent this outwardly.

It is an easy win, but equally easy to forget how important it is to visibly demonstrate our commitment to gender equality. So moving forward, every PR opportunity – every publicity shot published, every panel inclusion at every industry event – will feature an equal gender split from us. We’ve also introduced new policies to support a more diverse, progressive and entrepreneurial workforce altogether.

This year’s Cannes has already broken ground in demonstrating the best female jury, panel and speaker representation in its 52-year history. But while its judging panels are still even marginally dominated by white, middle-class men, there is still some way to go. I look forward to the year that it isn’t deemed necessary to report gender stats amongst attendees, panels and jurors, as equality should be a given.

When agency leaders commit to achieving better diversity around gender, but also in terms of socio-economic background, physical ability, ethnicity and sexuality across and at the very top of our businesses, then we are at least taking the first, important and visible steps to representing the society we need to engage with.

Neslihan Olcay is chief executive officer at Maxus Turkey 

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