Empowering Women

For the last 4 years, a select group of  from all around the world has gathered during the International Festival of Creativity. They take part in workshops and seminars specially curated around the issues of gender equality in the industry and are offered one-to-one mentoring by female leaders. We met Jaki Jo Hannan, one of the participants of the See It Be It programme and one of the speakers of this Wednesday’s 18 October Cannes Lions’ event “See It Be It presents: How are you really?”


“Can we have it all?” Having just arrived at our meeting, Jaki Jo Hannan, Senior Art Producer at AMV BBDO, starts the conversation with a question that most (working) women have on their lips. “Can we at the same time be successful in our career and create a family, not to mention maintaining a social life?” Jaki Jo was one of the 15 future women leaders taking part in this year’s See It Be programme and the issue was one of the hot topics on the table.


Launched by Cannes Lions in 2014, See It Be It is a response to the gender imbalance in the creative industry, its ultimate aim being to change the ratio of women leaders in agency creative departments. The facts speak for themselves. An estimated 25% of agency creatives are women, and only 11% will reach Creative Director Level. And the inequality doesn’t only concern the management level. As Jaki Jo Hannan observes, “As a producer, I can see that there are usually more men than women to commission. Sometimes I ask agents, out of curiosity, why there are so little women on their books. Most of them will say that they are looking to increase their number but a few answer something like ‘I don’t think my personality suits women’ or ’I’m not emotionally open to keep them’…”

See It Be It


We all have a choice

Some initiatives have been taken to fight the gender imbalance. Free the Bid, for instance, advocates on behalf of women directors for equal opportunities to bid on TV commercial jobs in the global industry. It calls for agencies to include at least one female director every time they triple-bid a TV commercial production. “I think it’s a great idea. How can women have more opportunities if they don’t have a place to show what they can do?” says Jacki Jo.

On her side, Jaki Jo has just launched a 50/50 photography pledge called ‘Equal Lens’ (see also Instagram account) to try amending the gender imbalance she is witnessing. “We each can make a difference in our section of the industry. Every time I commission new work I have to ask myself how I can create more opportunities for women and in turn more inclusion for all minorities. Obviously, it will ultimately come down to who is creatively best for the job. Piera Gelardi, Co-Founder & ECD, Refinery29 said at this year’s Cannes Lions, “Inclusion is not about: ‘You can sit with us.’ It’s about: ‘You already have
a seat at the table’ ”, explains Jaki Jo.

The responsibility, though, belongs to everyone. And women have their part to play. A well- known report from Hewlett Packard reveals that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications while women apply only if they meet 100% of them. “Knowing this is really helpful. Sometimes it’s how we perceive ourselves that is our own limit. We need to learn to identify when we are holding ourselves back and find a way to overcome these limitations. Karan Kaplan, CEO of the marketing and advertising agency Hill Holiday and one of the See It Be It mentors, told us to ‘be the CEO of the role we’re in’, and to ‘Identify (our) personal board of directors’ to cheerlead us to reach our full potential. It really inspired me. We have to be the master of our own life, but we don’t have to do it alone”, says Jacki Jo.


See and be seen

The question of gender equality is twofold: the place of women in the creative industry on one side and, how the creative industry represents women in the media on the other side.

This year’s SIBI Ambassador Madonna Badger, Chief Creative Officer at ad agency Badger & Winters, created the “Women Not Object” movement in 2016 to fight the objectification of women in the marketing and advertising world. She defined objectification by three criteria.

Props - Does this woman have a choice or a voice?
Plastic - Has she been retouched to the point of being humanly unachievable?
Parts - Has this woman been reduced solely to a provocative body part?

As Jaki Jo Hannan explains, “The purpose is to raise awareness. To make people think and to get them to make their own informed judgment. Imagine it is your sister, your mother, your daughter, your manager, your CEO… How would you feel?”  Following Madonna Badger’s movement, the Cannes Lions judging criteria were amended to ensure that empathy is at the front of jury members minds’ ensuring that work that objectifies or perpetuates negative and harmful inequalities and gender bias isn’t awarded.


Raising awareness

Coming back from See It Be IT, Jaki Jo feels more confident, empowered and feels like she has a voice. “Having had mentors and a support group of women to whom I can turn when I need to is really helpful. Leadership doesn’t seem to be out of range anymore and I have realised that I can be myself in the workplace. A leader sharing her/his vulnerability can actually empower others. Since my return, I’ve tried to open up the conversation. I have started talking with other people, finding likeminded individuals within my agency and industry.”

The concept of Feminism nowadays is somewhat tarnished. Those who try to raise issues regarding gender equality and the image of women will sometimes be received with contempt. “One of my friends, working in the advertising industry, was told by colleagues of hers that she was scary because she was a feminist – even though she expressed her thoughts in a normal and respectful way and the points she was making were pertinent. I tell myself that these people aren’t ready yet. It’s ok. Some people feel uncomfortable because they don’t know how they can implement change. Some because it is different from what they have known. Some are scared by the impact it can have on them. It is up to my friend now to decide if she wants to stay in that environment or find a workplace that is more open minded. It’s a hard choice for anyone. Do you stay and try and make the change where it’s really needed or do you go somewhere that will help you flourish and help the message go further?”