We are all equal (or are we?)

A punchy session at Advertising Week Europe underlined the fact that we still have a long way to go when it comes to gender equality.

We are all equal (or are we?)

For International Men's Day last year, one of our team came up with a lovely idea: take three words: she, female, woman. Then look at them differently and you see: SHE, FeMALE, WoMAN. So, you see, we really are all in it together. But are we?

Sadly the tone for the Adweek ‘We Are All Equal’ panel discussion, hosted by my business partner Kate Waters, was set when we collectively looked around and realised that 99% of the attendees were women. So, is this about the women ‘fixing’ the women? Where were all the men? No doubt cracking on with men’s work. Us girls have clearly got the luxury of time of sit around leisurely chatting about how to tackle the equality issues in our industry.

Responding to this discussion was a brilliant panel of equality and diversity champions - BT's chief marketing officer Zaid Al-Qassab, Campaign's Trends Editor Nicola Kemp, Thinkbox’s Tess Alps, Independent Film’s Liz Unna, and the leader of the Women’s Equality Party Sophie Walker. 

There was some terrific debate, discussion and disagreement, and so many good soundbites that (although slightly cheaty), the outtakes can be beautifully told through the top 10 quotes:

  1. "100 years since the vote, we’ve come a long way, but Emmeline Pankhurst wouldn’t be cracking open the champagne"  Kate Waters, Now
  2. "Agencies running campaigns encouraging us to 'F*ck the pay gap' when they've got a f*cking massive pay gap is obviously a problem." Nicola Kemp, Campaign 
  3. "There are too many women starting work being told they need help to navigate it." Sophie Walker, WEP
  4. "The men are as trapped as the women in a lot of ways. Unless we change our overall culture, we’ll struggle to crack it. If you are an agency leader your job is to make every person feel it’s possible to look after their kids and older relatives." Tess Alps, Thinkbox
  5. "This particular industry prides itself on risk taking. You are the least risky people. There is no risk being taken in terms of the people being hired, the stories you’re telling, the cheap stereotypes. Take the lid off it and say ‘boom’." Sophie Walker, WEP
  6. "Close your eyes and think of a director, and it’s a man. Women get films of emotions, tampons and charity – that’s to do with how we socially construct. The unconscious bias prevails." Liz Unna, Independent Films
  7. "We have to be mindful of the stories we’re telling so that they don’t become harmful stereotypes. A Mercedes ad is going to have a man driving it. And the next time. 25 times later and it’s another man. That’s stereotyping." Tess Alps, Thinkbox
  8. "There’s a lot you can do that you might not be thinking about. Shortlist of interviewees, director shortlist, casting, the team in the pub. Did you bother to understand the different challenges of family, where they live, religion? Individuals in this room can make a difference." Zaid Al-Qassab, BT
  9. "Apple Health launched without a period tracker. We’ve got to go back to these things and ask what we’re missing. There’s a real red thread between diversity in all its form and possible business outcome." Nicola Kemp, Campaign
  10. "It’s very clear that men know what sexual harassment is. Because they never sexually harass someone who can fire them." Sophie Walker, WEP

So, yes, the world has been galvanised and there is cause for (perhaps cautious) optimism, but the biggest learning of all is that we can’t only sit around and talk about it. We have to get up and do something about it. We all have to become activists, whether you’re a woman and man. Come on everyone, let’s do this.


Melissa Robertson is chief executive of Now