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The Influencers
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Gender (In)equality: Adland, the Olympics and a Shit Sandwich

Kode, 1 month, 2 weeks ago

KODE’s Dan Mallerman looks to fantastic female bosses and his equally fantastic mum to find hope for the future

Gender (In)equality: Adland, the Olympics and a Shit Sandwich


For those unfamiliar with the phrase ‘shit sandwich’ a brief explanation: a shit sandwich is the imparting of good information, followed by some not so good information, culminating in one final positive piece of information. 

This is a method used in schools to offer feedback to children. Recently there have been some astonishing examples of misogyny in the ad industry and were the culprit to have been a child rather than a fully grown man, he might have found himself filling and eating aforementioned sandwich.  


The First Slice of Bread: Inspirational Women

I was brought up by a young, single mum during my formative years. She wasn’t alone; I was, and remain, fortunate to have a close family, whilst my Mum had a tight group of friends who she had had for many years, all teenage women, who were key to my upbringing. ‘The Aunts’, as they are fondly referred to. My Mum taught me through example that women are capable of anything that their XY chromosome counterparts are. That includes putting up shelves, fixing a leaking tap, cooking dinner or - and this can’t be underestimated - putting in a session in the local boozer that would have many a bloke fleeing.  

During those formative years the UK had its first female PM. To many it remains a great shame who that PM turned out to be… but in terms of a shift in perception, at the time it seemed an astonishing advancement in gender equality. Of course there really was little change at ground level. Women were still left behind in employability and remuneration upon employment but something had shifted, even imperceptibly. 

I’ve also had two bosses who I would encourage young women to aspire to. Charlie Sells at Jelly London and Lori Youmans at Matchmaker in New York, both of whom are an example to any young woman wanting to forge a career, not just in the creative industries but any industry (plus they both employed me, I have to say that!). 

The, Err, Middle of the Sandwich: Inequality of Olympic Proportions

Advertising has been accused of many things, much of them justifiable. Female representation in advertising remains dubious no matter the shift. Not all cooking or cleaning adverts have the dutiful wife playing the dutiful role anymore, but often the man will be hapless whilst the woman looks on with pity.  

However, two of the great campaigns of the past 18 months have been ‘This Girl Can’ and ‘Like a Girl’ – empowering women, young, old and girls too in areas which traditionally would be the domain of the man, namely sport. 

Social Media is a haven for faceless bullies with as much courage as the Cowardly Lion, but it also has the tremendous ability to spread positivity within a matter of minutes, as with both of these campaigns which went viral and were huge successes.  

I can't help but link the debates around inequality in advertising and what's been happening with the Olympic Games. In Britain, post-London 2012, we had female athletes who were achieving at the pinnacle of their profession, be it Jessica Ennis (no Hill back then), Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott and Nicola Adams were all wearing gold around their necks, that’s without mentioning Ellie Simmonds, Rebecca Adlington, Kathy Grainger and Gemma Gibbons, each of whom won medals among many more.  

Around that time there seemed to be a genuine feeling that a woman’s body wasn’t there to be shamed, this was further enforced (although possibly a little over-indulgently) with the Protein World billboard. I say ‘possibly over-indulgently’ as the I felt the fall out was at odds with the countless underwear adverts which dominate the sides of buses, the billboards lining the streets and the free magazines left strewn across every bus and train in London, which receive almost no criticism.  

There have been far too many examples of women still not being treated as remotely on par with their male peers of late. That’s not to say that the issue has lain dormant and is only rearing its head again now, but that the recent furore with Kevin Roberts has been well-documented and put the issue back in the spotlight. 

Leaving aside Kevin Roberts’ comments for a moment, the Olympics have presented us with several examples of unequal treatment between the two sexes. Helen Skelton was the recipient of criticism for a dress she wore, a dress which is, so far as I could tell nothing more than that. Not skimpy nor revealing, just a dress. Meanwhile, sat opposite her was former British World Champion swimmer Mark Foster who wasn’t wearing trousers or tracksuit bottoms, he was wearing a pair of shorts yet nothing was mentioned about this, not a word.  When you type ‘BBC Olympic presenter’ into Google, the entire first page is dedicated to this story.  

(Furthermore, the people passing judgement must have failed to notice the irony of commenting on the lack of material the presenter was wearing whilst they watched swimming, hardly renowned for its participants wearing trouser suits.)

We are constantly reminded that behind every successful woman is a man, and this Olympics is no different. The Chicago Tribune announced that the wife of a Chicago Bears player had won a medal. No mention of the fact Corey Cogdell is a three time Olympian or that this was in fact her second medal. 

There are no examples of men winning medals and being mentioned second to their wife. ‘Kim Sear’s husband, Andy Murray Wins Tennis Match’ is as likely to happen as I am of winning a gymnastics gold. 

These are examples that, whilst not obviously dangerous, reaffirm positions within our society to children and the stupid.  

Kevin Roberts’ comments, on the other hand, are far more telling. For a person of his position, in one of the world’s most recognisable businesses to be so dismissive of the issue (only 11.5% of Creative Directors in the advertising industry are female,) is troubling. It suggests that the idea of advancement for women is one that, for at least one person that we know of, is a thing of the past. 

The Final Slice of Bread: Hope for the Future?

I do honestly think that we work in an industry that is seeking to redress the balance. There are many, many extremely talented women in our industry, producers, project managers, MD’s, ECD’s, directors, reps, agents, creatives and much much more. The volume of work we have been involved with here at KODE that reiterates the need for gender (as well as race, religion and sexuality) equality continues to rise, and will continue to for so long as the core of the issue is addressed. And that core issue is education.  

If you learn from an early age, or re-learn at a later age, that there is no distinction between the abilities of a woman and a man then, hopefully, we’ll continue to see the prominence of women in positive roles increase.