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Women in a Mad Men’s World?

"Where are all the women?" That's the question we couldn't get off our minds after having visited the Creativ Club Austria-Award Show (the country's most important creative award) last week. So we at Film Factory dug into the list of the latest and greatest winners and here's what it unveiled:  
 
 
  • Only 14.3% of all of the awarded creative directors are women.
  • Women film directors who made it on the list account for no more than 5.6%.  
 
 
Let that sink in for a second.
 
 
 
Adland, as so many other countries and industries, really is a man’s, man’s, man’s world”. The picture that is probably popping up in your head right now are the suits (ever heard of #dresslikeawoman?) parading down Madison Avenue, Don Draper sitting enthroned in his office or "Pass the Heinz". 
 
 
And while it is true that progress has been made since the Mad Men era - in 2008 for instance, women only accounted for 3.6% of the world’s creative directors - gender bias still dominates the ad industry.
 
 
Directing is the profession that is hit hardest by gender inequality. 
 
 

Let the female directors be heard

 

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Juliana Curi, visual artist & director 
 
Would you be able to name more than four female directors - apart from Kim Gehrig, Sara Dunlop, Marieli Fröhlich, Siri Bunford and Tatia Pilieva? If you can’t think of any, you are not alone. 
 
 
In an interview with Mashable, Alma Har’el, who is the director of this Stella Artois campaign and the initiator of #FreeTheBid (more below), put her finger on the problem:
 
 
It’s obvious that there is a gender superiority complex — not to mention a racial superiority complex — when you see who gets the jobs as well as who commissions them. It’s mostly white men giving jobs to other white men.”
 
 
It is, however, not only Alma Har’el painting a dark picture of the situation. Whether you are looking at the issue inside or outside our borders, numbers don’t bring in more light either:
 
Less than 7% of the world’s directors and less than 11% of creative directors at ad agencies are women.  

 

 

Sasha Markova, creative director at Mother and also the woman responsible for Alma Har’el being the one who directed the Stella Artois campaign, comments:


I’m surprised that [the percentage of rostered women] is that high. I thought it was 7 percent, [so this] feels like it’s growing. I might be taking a ridiculously optimistic view at a bad statistic.”
 
 
The reason why the lack of womenabove all in creative jobs —is not only affecting women or the ad industry but also the entire market is that 85% of all purchasing decisions are made by women. But:
 
 
    • 91% of female consumers can't identify with advertisements and feel misunderstood.
    • Seven out of ten women even feel alienated” by advertising. 
 
 
The issue we are facing here does, however, not only have to do with gender inequality. It comes down to a lack of diversity in general that impacts the creative industry
 
 
 
Different people see things differently. They feel differently, they have different ideas, a different voice and they create differently. Which is why it should actually be a no brainer that having an overwhelming mayority of white man running the show, isn’t what’s best —not only for women —but also for creativity and consequently the industry
 
 

Breaking the circle - Free The Bid

 

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 Photo Credit: http://freethebid.com/
 
That’s exactly what triggered #FreeTheBid. The initiative was brought to life by Alma Har’el, who was not only the first woman ever to direct for Stella Artois but also for Facebook, AirBnB and Uber. So what is #FreeTheBid all about? It is a pledge to give female directors a voice in advertising” by including at least one woman director bid on every commercial job
 
 
PJ Pereira, Chief Creative Officer and co-founder of San Francisco-based agency Pereira & O'Dell, supported Har’el and the initiative from the very beginning, which was in late 2016: 
 
 
“It’s a simple idea that will help the entire advertising ecosystem be more open to women directors. Because it's right but also because it's smart. A more diverse industry means a more creative one and a better representation of their customers and of society itself.”
 
 
The initiative has received a lot of support even before its official launch from agencies as well as brands. 
 
 
FCB Global, DBB North America, BBDO Global, McCann NY, J. Walter Thompson, Leo Burnett, Pereira & O’Dell, Mother, Joan, Phenomenon and 180LA have pledged to #FreeTheBid and try to get at least one woman bid on every job.
 
 
Goliath brands also jump on the #FreeTheBid-wagon: Microsoft, eBay, Nestle Water North America, Coca-Cola, HP and General Mills. Several of them are pushing their agencies towards equal allocations. HP and Gerneal Mills require a 50% female workforce, since women account for half of their customers. 
 
 
Even though the positive response to the initiative has exceeded all expectations, there are some critical voices as well. One of the first outcries claimed answers to Why start with women, if it’s a diversity issue in general.” A justified question with an apparent answer as stated by the Free The Bid-team, the clients as well as the agencies: 
 
    • Women account for half of the world’s population
    • and half of the world’s creatives.
    • They make 85% of all purchasing decisions.
    • Right now, it is male storytelling that creates women’s stories in advertising. We come across cultural misrepresentations and stereotypes on a daily basis. Having women telling the stories will change the way they are represented.
 
The one aspect that everybody agrees on is that we need to work towards establishing a diverse balance in the ad industry. When it comes to how to get there, opinions start to differ. The source of friction is the claim for the inclusion of one woman in every three-directors mix, which might actually have contra-productive effects.
 
 
Looking at it from a different angle one could say it is because of the history of gender bias, that freeing the bid” might be contra-productive, since women’s reels often can’t keep up with their male colleagues, because they haven’t enjoyed the same amount of opportunities to develop a kick-ass reel. 
 
 
This is the parting of the ways. Since the whole point of the initiative is to give female directors a voice, we decided to simply do so. Therefore, Film Factory reached out to 25 directors across the globe asking for their opinion on the issue. The result was twelve female directors reacting to our message and six actually answering our questions (hopefully the rest was out shooting). 
 
 
Sasha Rainbow, Verena Soltiz, Ine & Sanne, Juliana Curi and Catherine Louis are the wonderful directors that took their time to share their thoughts and experiences with us. 
 
 

Film Factory Interview Featuring Female Directors

 
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Sasha Rainbow worked as a stylist, art director and photographer before becoming a film and creative director based in London and Paris. She started her film career in the music industry and went on to direct advertising campaigns for Lancome and Armani among others. For the last two years she has been focusing on using storytelling to draw attention to issues that are very important to her like the environment and social causes. 
 
 
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Verena Soltiz started working as a director at the age of 21. She is from Vienna and has shaped great parts of the visual Red Bull story and the Austrian national television. Together with Kristian Davidek she directed the song Blankest Year” by the band Nada Surf that came out in 2006 and conquered the world and film festivals. Two of her films have also made it into the Saatchi & Saatchi Showcase in Berlin.  
 
 
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Ine & Sanne form a directors duo based in Amsterdam. They are stirring up the industry with their characteristic edgy style that mixes together elements of fashion, design and art. That is also what fuels their passion for directing. It gives them the opportunity to combine everything they love: fashion, design, music and cinematography. The two of them enjoy to come up with their own video concepts and they like to give their films a contemporary touch. 
 
 
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Juliana Curi is a Brazilian film director and visual artist currently based in New York, who has a deep longing to capture powerful fragments of the human experience. Her style is marked by her naturalistic and sensitive language, which creates atmospheres of strength and purity. She actively supports projects for female empowerment through her exhibitions at the Spotte Art New York Gallery and The Battle of the Body in Sao Paulo as well as through her commercial directing jobs for Avon and Dove for instance. 
 
 
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Catherine Louis is a French director and photographer living and working in Paris. We got the chance to interview her and Alexandra Roussel, her producer. Louis’ combining two different approaches to working with images results in a very detailed and sharp frame composition. With her refined touch, she catches special moments, experiences and emotions, which makes her dance, fashion and body shoots stand out. 
 
 

1. Female directors in equality or inequality?

 

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 Photo Credit: http://nofilmschool.com
 
The first thing we wanted to know from the directors we interviewed was, whether they had ever experienced any equality issues themselves in their career as a film director. The answers we've gotten were quite positive.
 
 
Regarding diversity in gerenal though, Ine & Sanne see a long way ahead of us:
 
 
We do notice a clear struggle everytime we propose models or actors with multicultural skintones. A lot of brands are still very narrow minded as for that matter.” 
 
 
When speaking about their personal experiences, the picture they draw of the situation looks brighter:
 
 
The advertising world is a weird place with a lot of layers. Mostly we work directly with the client, so there is no advertising agency involved. We don’t experience direct discrimination but we do get a lot of positive feedback on our female touch when directing our films. We work super hard to get our jobs. We’re not sure if it’s easier for men but we’ve definitely lost a lot of pitches to men.” 
 
 
That lines up with how Verena Soltiz perceives the situation:
 
 
I feel equally entitled in my job,” she states. I have to admit that sometimes I feel that I'm even being favored over men, since I am one of the few advertising female directors of my generation in Austria. The audiovisual language of a woman is often required, but at the moment there are not that many female directors in the advertising industry.” 
 
 
Sasha Rainbow describes similar experiencies:
 
 
I would say I'm lucky to have had a pretty good experience in my career with regard to respect. In the few instances that I have felt any kind of lack of it, it’s been from patronising crew members. Needless to say I didn't work with them again.” 
 
 
There might be a link between what Rainbow depicts and what Catherine Louis and her producer Alexandra Roussau tell us.
 
 
For a long time, I’ve heard that female photographers as well as directors have bad character. People say She is really difficult,” and she is really hard with people,” Louis explaines, What drives me crazy is that a man in the same position isn’t referred to as difficult or crazy, instead people see him as a person who knows what he wants.” 
 
 
Roussau continues, Men are always allowed to lose their temper. When a woman gets mad, she has no right to show that. That’s at least what I feel as a woman.” 
 
 
Interviewing the directors and stumbeling across an article from FERA (Federation of European Film Directors), there seemed to be a pattern coming on the scene. In the article British director Lynne Ramsay expresses that she has never felt discriminated. However, she observes that characteristics as being demanding and exacting makes men seen as artistic and creative and having huge integrity, whereas women can be seen as difficult and problematic”.
 
 
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Lynne Ramsay
Photo Credit: http://www.raindance.org
 
 
While this might be a subliminal way of experiencing inequality on this side of the globe, things seem to be different when taking a look at South America for instance. 
 
 
Brazilian director Juliana Curi shared her experience with us:


For many years, I have seen the careers of many boys light up. Often they had the same or less experience than I had. It took me a long time to thrive because of it. I am part of a generation where in the production companies there was not much space for women directors, possibly a reflection of the market, where there was no room for us either.”
 

 

 

2. Free The Bid to Blow off the Lid

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Photo Credit: http://divergenow.com 
 
Even though most of them didn't have to put up with not being treated equally and some are even favored over men, all of the interviewed directors agree that there are too few women in the creative industry. That's the reason why we wanted to know what they thought about #FreeTheBid and the pledge to include one female director bid on every job
 
 
Soltiz expresses her doubts:

I don't think that right now it is possible to include at least one female director —assuming that three people are invited for the job —since the current proportions between men and women do unfortunately not meet those requirements. Besides, it would be contra-productive to invite women to pitches just to fulfill a quote and not to actually win the job.
 
 
Soltiz does not stand alone with her opinion. No director —or any other professional for that matter —wants to be considered for a job serving rather as a token than a talent. 
 
 
The issue was also discussed in an article by The Beak Street Bugle titled Do You Need a Penis to Direct Ads”. In the piece they cite Matthew Fone, President of Riff Raff, asking,

 
In pitching, [female directors] have got a better chance than a male, just by their sex. Is that fair? Not really”, he admits, but how else do you kickstart this? You have to go to this extreme level to make people aware. Natural progression just doesn’t happen. Why is that? It’s stupid.”
 
 
Matthew Fone raises a subject that many players in the ad industry think of as no ideal solution but a necessary one. 
 
 

“I think the only way to change the percentage of women working in film is through policy. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, but I believe if we create strong rules surrounding equality, we will create opportunities for minorities to prove themselves. It is crazy that we even need to convince anyone - who better to sell stories and products to women than women themselves?”

 

Rainbow defends her opinion and gets backup from Curi:

 
 
“We can't expect situations to change naturally”. Naturally”, gradually” are words I don’t like to use, because the audiovisual and advertising industry is marked by the male presence and naturally they will have the best opportunities. So I see that the system created by Free The Bid is extremely efficient, because it delimits a necessary quota for women. Only through actions like these, we might see change happening fast.”
 
 
Vicki Maguire, Deputy Executive Creative Director at Grey London, agrees with the two directors. She believes that Once you’ve forced women into those jobs or at least got that balance right, then like any industry the good stay and the bad drop out. So first of all it’s good for gender and then it’s good for the industry.” 
 
 
Director Nicole Volavka weighs in by pointing out that
 
 
[…] putting someone on a pitch isn’t giving them the job. It’s just giving them a chance. A lot of the time I don’t think women are getting those chances.” (The Beak Street Bugle reports)
 
 
She goes along with Ine & Sanne who have the impression that clients and advertising agencies
 
 
often are scared to dare new things. They should give female directors the chance to show what they're capable of."
 
 

What’s the difference anyway?

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 Director Ava DuVernay
Photo Credit: http://www.sundance.tv 
 
So why are they not getting the chance? What’s the root of the problem? To answer the riddle, we did our research. It turns out that the gap only appears in the professional world. In art schools the proportions of male and female students are rather equal. 
 
 
Maybe it all comes down to the result of a study published by the Economist that reveals that many women won’t apply for a job until they meet 100% of the hiring criteria. Men in comparison try their luck even if they meet no more than 60%.
 
 
In order to get hired women also have to prove that they can do the job, which puts them in a doom loop. If you don't apply for a job, you won't get it. Consequently, often their reels aren't as good as they could be, which leads to them not being able to prove what they are capable of. As a result they won’t get hired either, even if they fulfill the requirements. 
 
 
That correlates to what Ine & Sanne have been hearing from several production companies:
 
 
Female directors do their homework, or even more than they need to,” and they can identify with that statement, “That definitely sounds like us.”
 
 
Looking at the landscape of the film industry, one can make out that there are certain sectors where women directors seem to get a better chance. When it comes to Beauty, Fashion or Hygiene shoots, in most cases agencies and clients yield to women. 
 
 
Campaign reports on Dunlop deciding to knock off jobs for hygiene products - that’s how tired she had gotten of putting beauty products in the limelight. Now, for the first time, she says, she feels like a director, not a female director.”
 
 
All of our interviewees are on the same page when speaking about whether there is a link between different styles and different genders. Their answer is simple: no. Not one of the directors we talked to believes that the visual universe of the individual director has something to do with whether they are male or female. 
 
 
 
 
This reaction pretty much sums up the thoughts everybody shared with us. Nevertheless, at the same time, they confirmed what statistics say about the sectors of Beauty, Fashion or Hygiene shots. 
 
 
When pitching for an underwear commercial, Rainbow gained the trust of a client because they felt that she would be able to come across in a way that the consumers could identify with:
 
 
They wanted to be sure that the idea they had wouldn't be read as sexist. I think in this case they wanted a female director so that their idea would be presented in a way that would be appealing to women, and working with me made them confident of that.” 
 
 
The Fashion sector is home to Ine & Sanne. Respect and aesthetic is what they find fundamental for their shots and their cast.
 
 
Even in a video with only breasts we made it fun and fashionable and not corny or pornographic. A man would have made it totally different for sure.” 
 
 
On the one hand all of them agree that styles can’t be categorized based on gender. On the other hand it might seem like the adland dwellers —even some of the female directors themselvesdo have different expectations from the work of a male director and the one of a female director
 
 
A story reported on the Free The Bid-Website from Susan Young and Daniela Vojta, ECDs McCann/ M: United, sheds more light on the issue.
 
 
We were thrilled to work with JJ Adler on our latest Microsoft project. She rocked it but we didn’t pick her because of her gender. Truth is when we first spoke with JJ, we had no idea she was a she. We just assumed she was a guy because she had a lot of humor on her reel what’s that say about us?”, they told the Free The Bid crew. 
 
“Besides making us feel like terrible feminists, it made us realize that Free the Bid is important not just to put pressure on production companies, but also to challenge our own creative biases as well.”
 

 

So what does Film Factory's Managing Partner and Executive Producer Thomas Andreasch think about it? 

 

"When considering which director fits best to convert a certain idea into a movie, I don't think about gender. When it comes to the human side of the issue, it is— among others— a very important aspect though. The director concerned needs to have affinity for the topic and if he or she gets along with the team, everybody enjoys the whole process a lot more and that generally results in a better film. In most cases when working with female directors, I've noticed the positive characteristics that are generally associated with women in leading positions."

 
 
Neither life nore the film industry is all guns and roses. 
 
 
Generalizing won’t get us anywhere. Lindsey Clay, Chief Executive of Thinkbox, agrees with her statement published in the Beak Street Bugle article.
 
 
It’s not saying that just because you have a male director you will get a skewed, misogynistic view of women,” she explains, because that plainly isn’t true. But variety and diversity of point of view is a good thing and you get insights and reflections that you wouldn’t get from men.”
 
 
The more voices we include, represent and hear, the better.
 
 
By including women we can build bridges and a dialogue between women and men,” Curi hopes, That will result in new stories and new perspectives.”
 
 

Conclusion

 
To sum it up, there still is a huge gender gap in the directing profession and the ad industry, but things are slowly changing. The initiative Free The Bid has already reached a great amount of supporters. Some of them were able to register first successes by sticking with the pledge. 
 
 
Different solutions and approaches to close the gender gap are suggested and not everyone is fond of a gender quote for directing jobs, since there are —as we have seen —several downsides to it as well. 
 
 
Whereas opinions differ on that point, everybody agrees on the fact that the advertising industry needs to shine in more than just one color. 
 
 
Thanks to the directors that took their precious time to do the interview with us, we got a close-up of what they actually think about the issue and how they experience their daily lives as directors.
 
 
What we got out of it was the chance to listen to women who do what they love, who believe in diversity and who neither feel nore want to be seen as the victims of the industry but rather see themselves 
 
“as storytellers with the duty to send the right message to the world and hear the voices of all. It’s 2017, after all.” (Sasha Rainbow)
 
 
Let me conclude with the following video (because I just can't help it):
 
 
 
 
 I want a Free Production Brief Template
 
 
briefing fuer filmproduktion

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