Free the Bid’s Netherlands ambassador, HALAL director Caroline Koning, on her mission to build awareness of the ‘very obvious’ problem of gender inequality
Last month Free the Bid announced its expansion to the Netherlands, revealing that Caroline Koning, a director at HALAL, would take up the role of local ambassador.
Founded in 2016 by award-winning filmmaker Alma Har’el, the global platform and non-profit initiative advocates on behalf of women directors for equal opportunities to bid on commercial jobs in the global advertising industry.
Central to the initiative is a pledge that calls for ad agencies and brands to include at least one woman director in each triple-bid they hold for a commercial production. The programme also urges production companies to add more women to their roster and provides an online resource for listing women in the filmmaking disciplines. Pledges have come from the likes of Diageo, WeTransfer, 72andSunny, eBay, Anomaly, 180, Airbnb and DDB to mention only a sample.
Caroline joins a team of ambassadors that’s growing quickly, including some of the foremost filmmakers in the commercial world from France to South Africa.
At the start of her mission, LBB’s Alex Reeves asked Caroline about her hopes and plans to shift the gender imbalance in the Netherlands.
LBB> How do you view your responsibility as the Netherlands' Free the Bid ambassador?
Caroline> Joining a stellar Free the Bid ambassadors team including Kim Gehrig (UK), Elisha Smith-Leverock (Germany), Fleur Fortunè (France) and Leigh Ogilvie (South Africa), I find it important to learn how they have approached things in their various markets, and see how to best apply or do things differently locally. It goes without saying that I wish to include as many people from our industry in the Netherlands as possible in that process. Hopefully, by utilising the global network of experiences across the Free the Bid network, we will tailor an approach that works for us in getting more NL agencies, brands and production companies to join the mission. So, to me, a first step of being a local ambassador is to get the word out there and open up a conversation. In general, I think the Dutch are often depicted as open, forward thinking, and tolerant people – and in many ways they/we are – but it has also made us somewhat stagnant. I think this is particularly relevant for the gender equality conversation. My biggest aim for the local market is to broaden the scope of that conversation, and make sure more voices are heard.
Regardless of being a Free the Bid ambassador or not, I see it as my responsibility to create awareness for female filmmakers (not only directors, but also cinematographers, editors, composers, etc.). As an ambassador, my responsibility is to find ways to encourage everyone in the industry to create that awareness in their own unique ways.
LBB> How do you feel being a woman has impacted your career, in overt or maybe more subtle ways?
Caroline> On the one hand, it doesn’t impact my career. I thought filmmaking could be fun, and a few years later, here I am. On the other hand, I have noticed through the eyes of others that I am a woman. I have received emails saying I shouldn’t include my name in a pitch because the marketing director didn’t like women to direct ‘his’ commercials. In situations like that you suddenly realise that people see you differently. That being a woman does affect your career, the jobs you get to pitch for and the people you get to work with.
But, importantly, what I like about being a female filmmaker is that if I come across a female director or cinematographer that I like, I am always extra happy to see them flourish. I always hope they inspire others to get involved with more female filmmakers.
LBB> You said in your press release that the Netherlands is perhaps complacent because it holds itself up as a country of openness and tolerance. How do you think that has impacted women directors in the country?
Caroline> Being on set, it’s very visible to me: I work with more men than women. And I don’t mind working with men at all, on the contrary. I also don’t necessarily think it’s necessary to always have a 50/50 male / female environment. But what I believe is that you hire the best person for the job: male or female. Both need equal chances to get hired. And that’s what is currently missing.
I think the Dutch are quite stubborn, whereas The Netherlands is a very open and direct country. We freely talk about the education system, substance usage or abortion, whereas that is unthinkable in some other countries. In the meantime, The Netherlands has dropped to number 82 on the ranking list of the gender equality index. So somehow, or somewhere, people’s eyes are closed to some very obvious problems. I feel that one of the biggest obstacles is that people often feel attacked. They truly believe they have an open mindset or know what is best for their company, strategy or another organisational context. If you speak up it is quickly seen as complaining, ‘being feminist’ or simply annoying. Free the Bid doesn’t mean to judge people on their openness; it just wants to present another opportunity.
LBB> You also mentioned how the conversation is so broad. What are some areas of the conversation that you'd like to see discussed more?
Caroline> What I mean by the conversation being broad is that it is a global issue, and it’s not only about female filmmakers. It is also about representation of culture, and a truthful depiction of diversity. It’s global in the sense that the issue surpasses industries. What I’d love to see is that other job fields follow in the footsteps of Free the Bid and create their own awareness strategy that works for their needs. And similarly, that we can learn from initiatives in other sectors.
LBB> Finally, what's your strongest argument to convince companies and agencies to take the Free the Bid pledge?
Caroline> I do not have an argument - I don’t think that firing arguments at people is going to work. If they’re hesitant, it is more interesting to me to know what their doubts are. That way, I can tap into their wants and needs more easily. I think you need to understand the base of the conversation you’re having that day. How does the agency see the world? Did the brand already try bringing in female filmmakers, and how did that work out? But I guess, if they’re a traditional marketing-driven group I’ll just say that 85% of women decide on buying consumer goods. They’re missing out.