When Will Women Begin Appearing In Advertising’s Halls Of Fame?

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In this guest post, NY-based creative and R/GA senior copywriter Chloe Saintilan (pictured below) questions why women fail to feature in advertising’s halls of fame (zero per cent, in fact) and asks: when will it change?…

March is International Women’s History Month: A month dedicated to honouring the legacies of women who have shaped human history, and to reflect on developments in gender equality and representation in workplaces, politics and other areas of life. March 8 specifically was International Women’s Day, and around this time articles and critiques often emerge that highlight the work yet to be done.

This year, one particular article struck me. It was criticising the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – arguably the most famous Hall of Fame in the world. Over the course of 34 years, only 69 out of the 888 inductees are women. Advocating for more equal representation, the author of the article argued “the reason this representation matters is that defining the canon is genuinely important.” This article sparked a broader conversation, with subsequent articles questioning how inductees are selected, and others compiling lists of distinguished women who should have already been recognised. All of these authors were landing on a singular point: the lack of women is more than just a numbers problem, and it needs to be addressed.

This article got me thinking about our own industry’s equivalents. I headed to Adnews’ Advertising Hall of Fame, remembering they recently kicked off their 2020 awards process. Given the history of the advertising industry, I was doubtful that there would be many women. But I was definitely shocked to see that there were none at all. The two page list of names was entirely made up of men, and not a single woman.

The site says that ‘inductees are chosen based on how they have influenced the direction of the advertising industry and helped put Australia on the world map through outstanding, innovative and original advertising’. While many of the men I recognised as having made a significant contribution, how can we sit back and accept that no woman in our history has made an impact worthy of giving them a place in this Hall of Fame? And what message does this send to women, young and old, in our local industry? I searched for some sort of criteria, or the committee who selects the inductee, to no avail.

I then Googled Cannes’ Lifetime Achievement Award, the Lion of St Mark. Given Cannes’ large focus on empowering women in advertising, with a dedicated program literally called ‘See it, Be It’ (inspired by the notion that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’), I was hopeful. Cindy Gallop was a given. Colleen Decourcey too (who was named Creative Leader of the Decade by AdWeek). So many powerful women who have played an instrumental role in moving our industry forward, and who have been responsible for some of its most groundbreaking work.

You can imagine my reaction when I found that the percentage of women who have been awarded the Lion of St Mark was not just a small percentage, but zero per cent. In its nine year history, eleven men have been awarded the accolade, and no women. Again, you can’t dispute that these men have created legacies worthy of recognition. But I’m disappointed that the organisation which is essentially the industry’s ‘north star’ is yet to acknowledge any former or current female leader’s legacy. They have their ‘Glass Lion’ award dedicated to campaigns that have helped pave progress towards gender equality, yet a glass ceiling seems to remain intact for their highest accolade.

Women in the Halls of Fame signals to the next generation of women that they can also get there. Halls of Fame aren’t just awards. They show industries what you have to ‘be’ to get to the very top. And when the current state presents a cookie cutter mold, that’s problematic.

With more women rising up the ranks than ever before, and creating some of the most disruptive work around the globe, it’s inevitable that these ‘halls’ will become more balanced in years to come. But with the 2020 inductees for both Adnews and Cannes being announced soon, my fingers are crossed that this is the year things change. Because among all their reporting, programs and initiatives focused on helping raise a new generation of female leaders, they should recognise the importance of acknowledging the women who paved the way. Not only do these amazing women deserve such recognition, it shows the younger generations that it’s not crazy to dream of being up there one day. After all, in the words of Cannes itself: once you see it, you feel like you can be it.



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