Ad Festivals Still Have a Long Way to Go to Achieve Equality

Inclusivity and diversity are still just buzzwords

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“Can she be included in the fee?” is something I overheard at the Carlton at this year’s Cannes Lions.

Words like “inclusivity” and “diversity” are included in every single program of every single ad festival around the globe. At last, it feels like gender is finally part of the agenda. But is this a reality in our industry or still wishful thinking? In short, are festivals a forum where women’s voices are truly heard?

The short answer is not really. In truth, most of us feel like we are getting invited to hang out in the boys’ club. Bro culture, demeaning behavior and harassment are sadly still the norm, sometimes making ad festivals a toxic experience for women. And no, rosé is not to blame. Though we are now in the post-#MeToo era, things that shouldn’t happen still do, and the expectation is that ad women should simply take a deep breath and laugh it off.

Some things have changed. The presence of female jurors, panels and speakers are rising each year. We are getting closer to equality in judging rooms, with more and more women judging. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the experience is a pleasant one.

Are the men in this industry really comfortable discussing creativity with their female counterparts? From my experiences and experiences of close female colleagues, the sad truth is that many men are not. Female creative judgment is too often discredited in the jury room. Eye-rolling, mansplaining and constant interruptions are all too often commonplace.

It’s time for festivals to take women more seriously in creative discussions—unless our presence in the jury room is tokenism and the lovely snapshot of a super diverse jury was taken without questioning what the experience was like for everyone in the photo.

So, how do we start changing it?

Share your experience

Speaking up is an essential first step. If you didn’t have a good experience as a female attendee, say so, loud and clear. Give feedback to the festival and your employer. Let them know how it made you feel.

Institute change in jury rooms

If you are asked to judge in a festival, ask for their gender bias and diversity policies. If the award show doesn’t have one, demand it. If someone discredits you in the jury room, let the organizers know who they shouldn’t invite to judge the next round.

Think big-picture change

Advertising festivals must acknowledge that inviting ad women to judge award shows isn’t enough on its own. Bigger changes are needed: changes to how juries are briefed, to how women can provide feedback to ensure when women do offer feedback they are listened to, and to the urgency with which these matters are addressed to create the conditions and environment where a woman feels respected.

Significant change will be needed at root level. Some festivals need to abandon their neutral position and start living in 2019. Getting invited is not enough. Women must be respected and valued, too. It’s the only way to make diversity and inclusion in every festival program not merely a trend but a solid reality.