Last fall I sat on a panel at a 4As conference on transformation. Despite a woman as moderator, my fellow panelists were all white men. Last month at the Mirren conference in New York, I joined an innovation panel. Once again, the panel had a woman moderator but four male participants.
At Colorado University, speaking at the annual Innovator Series, I discovered I was the fourth white male in four years. (My suggestion to the audience was to refuse attending next year unless the series featured a woman.) And more recently at a Google creative council, the industry creative leaders who attended numbered 14 men and no women. One woman had been invited but didn’t show.
Farrah Bostic, a senior planner at Digitas in New York, with support and encouragement from the likes of Cindy Gallop (they both had a hand in assembling this useful list) and others, has been keeping tabs on the ratios of men to women on the advertising industry’s panels and juries. Her assessment of The Effies, the Clios, the Jay Chiat Awards and others reveals numbers that are abysmal. For some reason, in an industry that’s filled with smart women (though not necessarily in the highest ranks), and an age in which the majority of purchases are made or influenced by women, the public voices remain men.
So what’s going on? Are we witnessing an outright prejudice on the part of event organizers and award shows? Do we simply perpetuate the problem when men invite men who invite more men? Or is it just the natural outcome of inviting whoever is top of mind when we make lists of leading talent, selecting the people we already know and with whom we’re comfortable? I know I do a little of that myself when planning workshops.
I asked Farrah what she thought and she was kind enough to offer the following, reflecting responses that she’s received from event organizers and jury chair people.
- Conference organizers recruit from their peers, colleagues, and those they admire. If they don’t know or know of women, they don’t invite them.
- If they can fill the panels or juries, then they’re done. They don’t like to un-invite people and it’s hard to add women after the fact.
- Many conferences require some amount of travel; not all conferences reimburse or pay their speakers. This can be a hardship for women who have kids at home, or who are struggling entrepreneurs.
- I keep hearing, “the women we ask want to be paid.” But the women they ask are Danah Boyd, Jane McGonigal, Amber Case, Marissa Mayer. Of course they want to be paid. They make a living writing and speaking or are in high demand.
- Today I heard this feedback – the 4As only want women who are ‘heads’ of departments and running the show.
- There’s an outright assumption that in the areas of technology, game theory, network theory, and analytics there aren’t enough women to choose from.
She also goes on to suggest some solutions.
- Stop depending on the people (department heads) who’ve stopped growing in their careers, are no longer hands-on, and are a step behind the trends and technology defining the industry’s future.
- Start with a determination to make the list (panel, jury, speakers) 50 percent men and 50 percent women. Even if you don’t achieve it you’ll be better for trying.
- Pass the #toomanywhitemen list around to all the event organizers you know. (And use the hashtag on Twitter.)
- Women themselves need to step forward and make themselves available to event organizers, taking some of the responsibility. (Good post here on self-advocating.)
Why do I care? Lots of reasons. I think the future of this industry depends on its diversity. As an event organizer myself I’ve been guilty of a 25 percent ratio. (That was our last BDW workshop ratio, though women did turn us down due to family/kids/travel challenges.) And I have a daughter.
If you have ideas, suggestions, observations, please share. And pass the list around.