It will take 200-plus years to officially reach gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum 2017 Global Gender Gap Report. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that much time.
As we reflect on International Women’s Day tomorrow (March 8), I simultaneously want to drown myself in my morning coffee amid the same dismal stats (things like, still only seeing 11 percent female creative directors) and slip into a boxing class just to wring out the rage (given the ever-growing list of sexual assault victims).
But if I lift my head up, I believe our industry could actually write the most powerful gender equity story ever told.
And I don’t think that’s because I’m naive; I grew up in this industry. Nor because I managed to skip the battle; I’ve got scars. But it’s because, at our core, we have the most creative, eternally optimistic, highly sensitive, empathy-dripping people on this planet. That is who and what we are. We are the X factor this report leaves out of the equation.
Like many industries, ours is one of forward momentum and backward slides, advances made and lost. So is the history of our marketing to women: overly sexualized to asexualized and decontextualized. From creating insecurity to architecting empowerment archetypes. From meek to multifaceted, multiability, with an emphasis on intellect, competency and agency. And reverting back again.
But what makes this industry so powerful is that we get to tackle gender equality on two fronts. We have the unique privilege not just to treat the women of our industry with complete, utter, uncompromising equality, but to also create messages of equality that reach women the world over.
We hold the microphone more so than any other industry. Even film can’t do what we do.
We wield millions of messages to women: 80 million images are added to Instagram every day, and 250,000 updates are posted to Facebook every minute; a woman has an average of 3.57 devices. We drive repeated, consistent, scalable portrayals, and the hashtags, the campaigns that women rally around, are forcing important conversations, shifting treatment, shaping culture.
On Twitter, conversations about feminism have increased 300 percent over the past three years. We did that. We decide what women see, where and why. Take Nike’s Until We All Win just this week. As women are represented as equals, the world will learn to treat them as equals. We unlock the future movements, ideas, brands, businesses of tomorrow. Every. Single. Day.
So we have reason to be optimistic. Even more so, if we look beneath the surface.
In starting my own agency named after my grandmother Grayce—a tiny, but mighty woman who taught K–12 in a one-room schoolhouse on the prairies of Saskatchewan, Canada—I’ve had the privilege of sitting in my own classroom of sorts with the most talented minds across different vantage points: Fortune 100 executives, agency founders, holding company leaders, VCs, startup founders, the Big Four, media properties and individual creators. While all serve brand marketing, the unexpected through line is that women are really doubling down to support each other.
This is new.
Out of anger, intention and conviction, a new collaborative network is brewing. This subculture is about nitty, gritty, how can I help you? What practical tools, advice, resources do you need as you scale or create? Real-time inquiries are being fielded, like, “I need a new developer, resource for legal/IP, counsel on equity, advice on negotiating a SOW.”
Ours is not a standing ovation moment, like that heralded by Frances McDormand or Oprah’s poignantly moving speech summoning the legacy of women like Recy Taylor. It is quieter, but it is transformational as hell.
By way of example, this past Monday, before 7 a.m., I was blown away by an article from Heidi Hackemer of CZI and Wolf & Wilhelmine; she’s a tour de force, ceiling-busting, empire-building—did I say force?—who, for no personal gain, posted about all the women she admires in our industry, shining a light on our alleged badassery. (She inspired this article in return.)
Next, I had a call with 3 percent movement driver Kat Gordon where we discussed, among other things, Cannes Lions SIBI, which is focused on advancing female creatives, chaired by Madonna Badger, who, as we all know, is leading tectonic plate-shifting work.
From there, I reviewed a Fortune 50 executive’s killer idea to create a platform for female producers within his company. Then, a note from a client, sharing the new Creative Lady Directory. In turn, I forwarded it to another agency. The list goes on. And this doesn’t include all the things you are all up to (share away).
Don’t get it twisted: This is still all about business—fundamentally good, profitable business, but just a different method—and it adds up. And we can all amplify what is happening, men and women alike.
This pursuit is head-spinning, mind-blowing, heart-enlarging. It is full-on collaboration at its best. Playing all out, not for oneself, but for the woman seated to the right or left—and especially for the girl watching on the other side of the screen.
And when you have that, you have more than a fighting chance. Not just on a single special day, but every. Single. Day.