The Art Director's Club has founded an initiative to make the famously boys’ clubbish ad industry more inclusive of women. This sounds unimpeachable on paper. But wait until you hear what they’re proposing.
I realized how bad things really were when, at the opening party for the Cannes Lions several years ago, the line for the men's restroom circled round the block, whereas at the women's restroom there was no line whatsoever. A first in human history, to be sure. One look at the juries of Cannes and other advertising awards tells you all you need to know. They have one or two token females, but it is mostly guys. Only about 3% of creative directors are women. This is plain and simple, gender discrimination.
I am a creative director, and a woman, and I welcome the desire to do something about this problem. But the way the Art Director's Club is going about it seems, well, patronizing. "Women have made great strides", says the current president of ADC. What strides? To catch up with the guys? What are we, in a Virginia Slims commercial?
ADC’s idea is to force the industry to have a 50/50 gender ratio at awards shows, boards of directors and events and speakers lineups. How will this be encouraged? Just put a woman in there to make everyone feel better about themselves? This is like applying a band-aid to a festering wound. The reason why no more women are part of these things is that not enough women get hired or are allowed to reach the creative positions needed to be invited to such prestigious affairs. There is a glass ceiling made of guys who hire guys, who give awards to guys. Yes, there are many women in high management in media, account services and production. Many women work hard in creative departments, mostly looking up above at a formidable barrier of guys. Creative still seems to be dominated by the Don Drapers of the world.
So there is an event today calling all women in advertising for a photo-op to break out the campaign. I did not see any important women in advertising there. There were mostly young women with esprit de corps who can perhaps afford to spend their lunch hour posing for a photo. The president of the ACD speaks and among the things he says is how impressed he was with the women he met at an awards jury panel, how much they had to offer, as if this were news. He is oblivious to how condescending he sounds.
The idea of a gender ratio, albeit well-intentioned, smacks of tokenism. This should be decided by merit, not gender. Women should be able to compete with men as equals in the creative field. That is, if they are allowed to participate, not in special events, but in the day to day creative work that requires their talent and leadership. And by the way, are women being paid the same rates as men? Don't think so.
Back in the Dark Ages in 2005, Neil French, then Worldwide Creative Director at WPP, said that there weren't more female creative directors in advertising because they usually leave "to go suckle something." “You can’t be a great creative director and have a baby and keep spending time off every time your kids are ill", he said, "everyone who doesn’t commit themselves fully to the job is crap at it.” Which is utter, despicable bullshit. One of the things that strikes me about Mad Men and its gender politics in the office, is the feeling of plus ça change. Yes, we've come a long way, but boy, are we still way behind.
Women can do it, whether they are single, married or suckling. But it would be better if we didn’t wait for the boys to give us the little pat in the back that is going to make everything allright. We have to start the fight to include ourselves.