A former boss of mine had a habit of saying 'women can't tell jokes and women can't do creative'. He was referring to creating advertising ideas, when he said this but he could have meant anything creative, even cooking. Actually, he was including cooking: 'all of the best chefs in the world are men' he would also remind us.
It looks a bit shocking to see such an attitude laid down in black and white, but when one is in an environment where that sort of attitude has become the norm, comments like that are met with a dropped jaw and a sharp intake of breath, and then everyone quickly gets back to their computer screen and the work in hand.
But this week, there was an interesting viral video going around which was both a challenge to this 'norm' and constituted proper work for anyone, like me, who is engaged in advertising. I'm referring to the Always campaign #LikeAGirl, which has already clocked up over 28m views on YouTube.
"Show me what it looks like to run like a girl' young respondents are asked, and of course the phrase appears as a snub to girls who have gone through puberty. But for younger girls who have not yet had their confidence battered they do not see being a girl as a negative stereotype. I think there is a lot to commend this campaign: it's insightful, it has cultural currency and yet it is at the same time challenging our culture; and it is artfully yet authentically executed. I just don't think it goes far enough.
Why 'run' like a girl, or 'throw' like a girl, or 'fight' like a girl. Why not paint like a girl, write poetry like a girl, sing like a girl, or tell a joke like a girl! Because it's easy to draw the distinctions in sport, yes, many women are made to feel less confident in contrast to men in that arena, and that is very visibly being challenged these days. However, there are more covert examples of the same thing happening in areas where strength, speed and power are not the requisite skills; it's happening in the areas of creativity where imagination, originality, and self-expression are requisite skills, skills that are completely and utterly gender-less. And it's happening every day.
In 2013 the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) published a UK study that showed that males account for 78% of those at the highest levels of industry seniority (Chair/CEO/MD) and 70% of other executive management positions. It shows that traditional creative roles (75% male) and digital creative roles (86% male) also have significant levels of male bias. On the other hand women in creative agencies made up 55% of creative services, 58% of project management, 67% of new business departments and 63% of account management. The message I take away from that is that any job that needs organisation, administration and trafficking of a creative product, should be given to the girls. If it's creative though, that's another matter. Put it this way: in our industry, 40% of those doing digital production are women but only 9.5% of those creating digital design are women.
The average age of employees in the advertising industry is just under 34, with only 14% aged 41-50. It's a small window of opportunity for you to make your mark if you are a 'girl'. So, I am also heartened to see this week, Jason Porath creating Rejected Princesses, a website highlighting the counter-cultural examples of mythical women who are just too powerful to be permitted princess status. "Women too awesome, awful, or offbeat for the movies", is his line. I see them as women who are creative, and challenging the very idea of creativity, what it is and who controls it.
It's tempting for a patriarchal society to push women into the 'producer' role rather than the 'creator' role but that is no longer acceptable. This blog will continue to bust the myths around women and creativity and showcase again and again the visionary women in our society who are both creating and commercializing great ideas, every day. We just need to stop, notice them and share their creative successes with the rest of the world.