Ladies’ Night

When Lee Clow, Steve Hayden and others dressed in drag for a video shown at the Advertising Women of New York’s Good Bad & Ugly Awards in April, their point was clear: There are very few women creative directors in the business. In fact, according to the Women’s Image Network (WIN), women make up just 15 percent of agency creative departments and 22 percent of the Directors Guild of America.

That men far outnumber women in ad-agency creative departments is indisputable. Whether honoring women for their work further sets them apart and thus stigmatizes them or helps them even the playing field is a source of endless debate. WIN, which organizes award shows honoring women in the film and TV industries, believes the latter, and on Sunday the group will hold its first show recognizing ads art directed, copywritten, creative directed or directed by women.

The event is the brainchild of Phyllis Stuart, WIN’s founder. “[Advertising] is really a boys’ club,” says Stuart, an actress when she’s not running WIN. “It’s a paradox to me. It’s such a potent delivery vehicle, yet women don’t have much of an input.”

Though she has organized WIN film and television awards since 1993, Stuart admits, “I had no idea what I was getting into” with the ad show. Partly it was a matter of awareness, as some 150 regional and national shows already exist. (AWNY’s Good Bad & Ugly Awards honor positive—and skewer negative—portrayals of women in advertising rather than recognizing ads created by women.) “It was sort of an uphill battle letting people in the advertising creative community know about the show,” she says. Liz Paradise, a creative director at McKinney + Silver in Raleigh, N.C., was a big help in that regard. She helped Stuart wrangle an A-list jury that includes Jamie Barrett, creative director at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, Monica Taylor, art director at Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, Ore., and Cheryl Berman, chairman and chief creative officer of Leo Burnett USA in Chicago.

“We have kicked around in many a debate why there aren’t more women in the creative field,” Paradise says. “I don’t know if we’ll ever have a perfect answer. But anything we can do to put role models out there and say, This is absolutely a place that women can be leaders in the industry, is a good signal to send.”

After assembling the jury and putting out a call for entries in July, with a Sept. 15 deadline, WIN received 150 entries, which were then sent via DVD to the judges. (Judges completed a second round of judging Oct. 22).

“There are people of varying abilities, and that’s no different in this show,” notes judge and GSD&M creative director Luke Sullivan. “I saw great, mediocre and bad stuff. Like any young show, it’s suffering from [low] attendance. But a lot of big players did show up, big brands” like Nike, ESPN and McDonald’s, he says.

Paradise does not believe singling out women in advertising creates a stigma. “I think it’s actually going to do the opposite,” she says. “People will see the work and think, Wow, that’s cool. Women don’t just work on deodorant. That’s a bad stigma. As far as set them apart, [the show] does that, but for the right reasons. … When you look at the industry and see there’s not many women, you may think, well, maybe women aren’t welcome. They are, and I want this to be something that’s proof of that.”

“When I was first asked to judge the show, I was a teensy bit reluctant,” admits freelance creative director and judge Sally Hogshead. “I don’t want to encourage the whole perception that women are a niche category. But the truth is, as progressive as the advertising industry is as a whole, it’s a time warp when it comes to gender. This show takes a step toward solving the problem by jump-starting exposure for women-centric work, work that can—and will—kick ass at any show in the country.”

Adds Carol Evans, president and CEO of Working Mother Media in New York and president of the board of directors of AWNY, “Women deserve to have the focus and the attention on them because they often get overlooked. I don’t think it’s an equal playing field yet, and until it is, we really do need award ceremonies banding together.”

The WIN Awards ceremony is Sunday in Los Angeles. Linda Wolf, chairman and CEO of Leo Burnett Worldwide in Chicago, will be honored with a lifetime-achievement award. Check for the winners.