The Trouble with Advertising, Part 15,662: Awards Shows Are A Boys' Club

  • by June 14, 2013
The big daddy of all advertising award shows, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, kicks off on June 15. 

But this season, alongside all the usual cocktail-fueled networking, client-stealing, and wee-hours frolicking  (now resulting in obnoxious Facebook photo postings), a less fun reality has surfaced: how shockingly few women are on award show juries in general. That’s probably a byproduct of the fact that 97% of creative directors in advertising are male.

Yup, 60 or so year since the fictional Peggy Olson first put on her copy hat in “Mad Men,” that’s an actual statistic.   That’s why Kat Gordon, an agency copywriter, has formed “3 % Conference” in San Francisco, a creative equality fest that will take place for the second time this October.

Clearly, the more this world does not include women (not to mention non-whites), the more it becomes a self-perpetuating closed loop: men speak on the panels, judge the work, and (by and large) pick up the trophies. And the cyle continues.



The gender disparity is true not only at Cannes, but at the industry award shows across the board.

For data’s sake, let’s just pick on the Clios, which were held on May 15. The show had 10 juries led by 10 men.  Just 16 of the other 69 jurors were women.

But nothing made the blatant dude-centrism of the evening clearer than the Clios home page, which featured a tall cartoon man modeling “what creatives wear to the ceremony.” One item: “Hideous jacket designed by hot but untalented girlfriend.”

(I guess a woman could have a “hot but untalented” girlfriend, but let’s fight one battle at a time here.)

When Cindy Gallop, former BBH exec, founder of and, got up on stage to present at The Art Directors’ Club Awards in Miami earlier this spring, she spoke about the problem ad hoc from the podium.

The remarks stayed with Ignacio Oreamuno, the Club’s executive director, who recently announced the launch of “The 50/50 Initiative. He registered the news in a groundbreakingly visual way by issuing a last-minute invitation to “all the women in advertising in New York” to come to the club to take a group picture. More than 150 women showed up for the solidarity photo, taken by Monte Isom, and it felt historic.

Saying that it’s just plain good business to have a more equal split, Oreamuno read the 50/50 Initiative mission statement, calling for “drastic and measurable changes to the roles and participation of women within the creative sector” -- specifically, “an equal level of participation for both genders across award show juries, boards of directors and events and speaker lineups.”

In a show of competitive collaboration, all of the award shows and advertising associations like the 4As have signed on.  A special badge is being created for associations that do achieve that gender balance in speakers, panels and juries.

Perhaps most importantly, the Initiative is putting together a directory of thousands of names of qualified creative women in advertising from around the world who can be tapped for jury and speaker/panel participation. The hope is that having the resource will stem the usual excuses of selection committees that they tried to get women, but couldn’t “find any.”

Gallop often speaks to this “where are the women?” issue at conferences, and addresses the men in the audience this way: “Imagine that, for years, you’d been attending conferences where you never saw anyone of your own gender onstage. Imagine that you never saw speakers and role models of your own gender, whom you could look up at and think, wow, if they can do it, then so can I.

"And imagine that all around you, the vast majority of the audience at those conferences were not your own gender, either. How do you think you’d feel? Well – that’s what we women live with all the time. Otherwise known as ‘the norm.’

"The issue is role models. You can't be what you can't see.”

It seems basic enough -- now let's start breaking the cycle.

7 comments about "The Trouble with Advertising, Part 15,662: Awards Shows Are A Boys' Club ".
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  1. Donna DeClemente from DDC Marketing Group, June 14, 2013 at 8:37 p.m.

    Thank Barbara. Hard to still believe these stats when most of the shopping decisions still being made by women. It's gotta change!

  2. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, June 15, 2013 at 9 a.m.

    The One Club and its award show has been run by a woman for over 25 years. It is the best award show (opinion) for individual art directors and copywriters for many reasons; among them the fact that the award is specifically for the copywriters and art directors. The last time I judged, back in the 13th century, I don't recall many women judges but there were a few i recalled judging with. But these award shows are commercial enterprises themselves and the entry fees have soared and the venues have moved from dark rooms off Madison Avenue to sunny resorts in the Caribbean. The Lions at Cannes even were sold a few years ago, and the Mayor of Cannes may have even had a piece of the action. No reason why some enterprising women can't start a profitable award show if it truly has a keener measurement and a way to publicize the agency and individual winners. About 20 years ago, Jane Newman started an account planning show. I was a judge the first year, and thinking back I don't recall other women judges, but women entrants seemed to predominate. 30 years ago, the great Helmut Krone headed the AIGA show, one that honored 50 print and 50 TV spots as the best of the year. His panel was entirely consumers, half women, half men. An interesting experiment would be to see if the results of a women-dominated show differ all that much from the current male jury shows.

  3. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, June 16, 2013 at 9:12 a.m.

    actually it was 40 years ago that helmut ran that show....amazing how time slips away....clearly he had a bigger influence on art direction than award show judging....

  4. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt, June 16, 2013 at 6:55 p.m.

    I'm proud of what I have achieved in this 97% male industry against the odds. I was part of the 50/50 ADC shoot and it was very exciting to see how many women showed up for the last minute call. Too bad it was run by a guy and shot by a guy. And as much as I appreciated Ignacio Oreamuno's support for the cause, I found his remarks at the event condescending. But I'm a long time veteran that mixed and mingled with the tale end of the Mad Men sexism era. You don't get used to it, you just learn to live with it and achieve in spite of it.

  5. Kat Gordon from Maternal Instinct, June 17, 2013 at 9:24 p.m.

    Barbara, thanks for this topical piece. I appreciate the shout-out to The 3% Conference, which I started as a passion project to problem-solve this age-old problem. The results have been nothing less than historic and women like Cindy Gallop and men like Ignacio Oreamuno are a huge part of the solution. The more that our industry hears -- in a chorus of male and female voices -- the need for more equal representation, the faster it will come. An interesting side-note: at last year's 3% Conference, Karen Mallia, a former creative and now advertising professor, shared the history of award shows and made a fascinating suggestion. Originally award shows served the purpose of letting creatives know about one another, in an era before LinkedIn and agency websites. Now, what role do they play? If the judges do not at all reflect an overwhelmingly female consumer marketplace -- the intended audience for the ads being judged -- then what are we rewarding?

  6. Hollie Rapello from BOHAN, June 18, 2013 at 4:38 p.m.

    Thanks for turning the spotlight on this Barbara! Great article.

  7. Barbara Lippert from, June 19, 2013 at 4:55 p.m.

    @Leslie-- yes, I was at the shoot, too, and it was unfortunate that Ignacio felt the need to start with the "Im not a feminist" thing. Feminism is humanism, and I told him so after the event. But this action could do something, despite his bad and condescending opening remarks.

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