There has been a positive trend in advertising lately, especially in the West, which is addressing the inequalities women face. In 2016, #WomenNotObjects and #IStandUp ignited the gender conversation and became an ambitious campaign to stop the objectification of women in advertising. These campaigns and changes bring up an important question: “If we can’t create media that is respectful to women, how can we expect women to be respected within the industry?” Gender equality in the creative workplace has long been a hot-button issue, and will take years to correct, but the move is definitely on the rise.
There are a number of global initiatives that have been created recently in the advertising industry to address the issue, and take action. Last year, in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, 180 women executives launched Times Up Advertising with the mission to “drive new policies, practices and decisions to address workplace discrimination, harassment and abuse”. OWNED was founded at the end of last year as an initiative of global inclusion, aiming to support and promote women-owned companies in the ad industry. Beginning of this year 2019, The Gerety Awards was announced specifically to support initiatives that champion diversity in the creative industries and features an all-female jury for their first ever selection of winners.
Most recently, ad-women.com, the ad world search engine officially launched on International Women’s Day, putting female talents in the spotlight.
广告行业近年来出现了一些全球性的举措，通过采取实际行动来解决这一问题。去年，紧随“还有我”和 “该停止了”的活动之后，180名女性高管带着“推动新政策、新实践、新决策的实施，解决工作场合中的性别歧视、性骚扰和侮辱”的任务，发起了“广告界该停止了” 的活动。去年年末“属于我”成立，作为一项全球性的举措，来支持和促进业内女性创办的公司。2019年初，盖雷娣奖成立，创意产业中的女性也能获得该将项的冠军，并且该奖项以全部由女性组成的评审团为特色，来选拔有史以来首批获奖者。
Even before these most recent initiatives, #FreeTheBid was created to unite brands, ad agencies, and production companies to pledge to include at least one woman director every time they triple-bid a commercial production. And 2017 saw the rise of Chicks in Advertising (CIA), MORE GIRLS, Where are The Boss Ladies, and SheSays, all created to push for parity in the industry. This all strongly indicates that the industry is striving for equality. What, though, about the industry in China?
The idea of gender equality was introduced and largely widespread in the People’s Republic of China during the Cultural revolution. As a result, in the 1980s, China’s female employment rate became one of the highest in the world – much higher than in the US, UK and even Sweden. Generations of Chinese women and men since have grown up with the idea of gender parity in the work force, which has largely contributed to this issue to be perceived as nonexistent in China, or at least, less concerning. Last year, The Drum conducted a study to point out that the advertising industry in China has achieved a “gender balance unmatched in other markets”.
A relatively large number of industry giants such as BBDO, Carat, Cheil, Dentsu Aegis Network, Publicis Media, and Grey are just some of the agencies helmed by women in China. And even on the less official scale, when asking female creatives, producers, or managers in China about parity in the industry and what kinds of discrimination they might face in the work place they will often mention that it’s generally not something they have encountered.
Carol Lam, chief creative officer and president of Leo Burnett Greater China was quoted by The Drum: “I remember, when I was starting out, there were a lot of outstanding women role models and as a young woman, seeing is believing. We were lucky to have a handful of extraordinary women in our industry in the beginning. We grew up seeing so many women in leadership roles. The idea of inequality never crossed my mind’.
《The Drum》引用Carol Lam—李奥贝纳大中华区的董事长和首席创意官的话来讲：“我记得在我刚开始的时候，有很多杰出的女性榜样，而且她们很年轻。眼见为实。我很庆幸起初在我们行业里就有一些出色的女性。我们从小就看到很多女性担任领导角色。我从来没有想过不平等。”
Christine Ng, CEO of BBH China mentions in the same article, “As the industry took off with the increase in domestic consumerism and influx of more international agencies, the demand for trained talent was far greater than the supply. The focus of any agency management in China would be on skill and experience regardless of gender.”
Christine Ng， 百比赫中国区域的首席执行官，在同一篇文章中提到，随着国内消费的增长和更多国际机构的涌入，该行业开始腾飞，受过培训的人才往往供不应求。在中国，任何机构管理的重点都将放在技能和经验上，而不是性别。”
Publicis Media Greater China restructured its leadership team last year, promoting four women to CEOs. Overall women broadly make up 74% of the company, with 69% representing mid to senior ranks. Bertilla Teo, CEO of Publicis Media Greater China, says the promotions are in line with the company’s gender-neutral attitudes. “Market competitiveness, especially in fast-growing Asian markets like China, encourages gender-neutral hiring policies. When I look at the business and company, I look at building a team based on merit. I am gender agnostic”.
The SHP+ directory lists about 60 major production companies in Mainland China, about 20 of which are owned by women. Pauline Sun, producer with 10 years of experience and now the owner of production house FlyOver Films in Shanghai, and also a member of OWNED, says: “I never felt or thought that gender was an obstacle for me to access good leading positions, and I’ve never experienced any salary discrimination at work. It’s all about mind-set, I think that in work and in life, women and men are equal. If you want to gain a better salary or achieve more, work hard and keep learning, develop your professional skills and most importantly, self-confidence and self-esteem. In Shanghai, I think most of us think this way”.
Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Chinese women in ad agencies are also excelling in their work, with 33% of married women under 40 earning more than their husbands, while a further 19% of single women earning more than their male counterparts according to findings in the BBDO Voices report cited by The Drum.
Although these numbers make it sound like China is way ahead of things in advertising, they are also contradictory to China’s overall recent performance in the Global Gender Gap Index. In 2018 China came 103rd out of 149 countries in the global ranking of gender equality. This index measures the national average of women’s opportunities in politics, education, health and the economy. But according to World Bank 2018 data, China still has one of highest female economic participation in the world (60.8%) compared to the world average (48.47%) or European Union (50.97%), or even countries like USA (56.86%) or UK (55.48%). Nonetheless, as a recent Chinese study reveals, China is battling a gender pay gap which is getting worse year by year. On average in 2018 women received 20% less than men. The latest Women in Work Index also suggests that China could increase its GDP by US$497 billion by matching its female employment rate of Sweden, one of the top countries in terms of gender equality in a workplace.
In view of the less impressive national China statistics above, perhaps we can look at the advertising and creative industry in China as a rare phenomenon where gender parity is (at least nearly) achieved. Even though there are no 100% reliable national statistics on the industry, perhaps it should still be celebrated?
Of course, the bigger picture facts lend somewhat of a fogged lens through which to understand gender equality in the Chinese ad industry. Regardless, there’s still and always will be a great need for a dialogue and exchange. This year’s ADFEST, which will take place in Pattaya, Thailand on March 20th-23rd, will add to the dialogue. The event will feature a panel women business leaders in the industry, organised by OWNED, discussing the importance of balanced leadership and opportunities to encourage parity. SHP+, as one of the founders of OWNED will join the line up of expert speakers. The panel will discuss why, now more than ever, it is important to continue to drive the conversation about equality forward.