Sexism is alive and well, oh yes

In a former life I was so interested in feminism that I was doing a PhD on its history.  Back then I hadn’t encountered much sexism directly, although I was very aware of its existence.  I was more interested in it in an abstract way, of what gender actually meant, and I disappeared so far up my own Lacanian arse that I didn’t manage to get my research written up.

Since then I haven’t encountered much sexism directly either, although I am perhaps more aware of its existence.  I don’t work in a sexist environment and I have never felt that I couldn’t do something because I am a woman.  I’m lucky.  I don’t think I am affected by the pay gap, and since I don’t have children I have not really come up against any of the hurdles that can entail for women.

However, I am extremely aware of the latent sexism/chauvinism in the industry I work in.  Advertising/tech is dominated by men at its higher echelons.  Maybe this is because of the childcare thing, since we work stupid macho hours and do a lot of travelling.  However, that can’t be the only reason.  Time and again we see the same men being asked to write articles or speak at conferences, and when women are invited it appears tokenistic, even to the extent of being open about ‘needing a woman’ so thinking of her.

I went to the Social Buzz Awards panel discussion last week and the content was rather disappointing – I was expecting a conversation about insight, innovation and ideas, but instead it was largely focused on the personality required to run good social media, and whether women were better at social media than men because they are better at multitasking and communication.

A twitter argument began the event because of the 8 panelists, there was only one woman, who didn’t attend the event. The panel just didn’t represent the social media practitioner audience – which was a healthy 50-50 split of men and women.

I didn’t really enjoy that discussion much.  I would much rather have addressed the issue head on than on Twitter, which just felt passive aggressive.  I don’t want to come across as petty.  This feels like a serious issue.  It is a serious issue.

It is comforting to know that this cause has been taken up by influential, international names in the industry such as Farrah Bostic, Cindy Gallop and Edward Boches.  The toomanywhitemen hashtag highlights not just the gender unbalance but the ethnic one too, although I guess this is more relevant in places outside of Scotland.

On the day of the International Marketing Festival (which featured a lot of male speakers) we held the inaugural She Says Scotland event.  It was really fun to do, and we were quite aware of the contrast between the two events.  She Says has been going since 2007, having started in London/New York, and it’s about giving women a platform, to share their ideas and experience.  If women can become better known via this organisation, help to put them top of mind when ‘normal’ conferences are being planned then it will have done part of its job. It’s not just about giving women a voice in the industry though, there is a mentoring system and it’s all about helping each other.  You don’t have to be a woman to come to the events either.

I am glad that Dominique took the plunge and decided to get it started in Scotland.  We need it.  Watch this space for details of the next event, which will be in Glasgow…

How to sum up?  Well, I guess I am a feminist because talk of ‘ladies’ and ‘better communicators’ and too many men speakers at conferences pisses me off.  I think we’d be better off if we all tried to make a change and help to make the great women working in this industry more visible.  What do you think?  Is feminism a dirty word?  Is it all about sexism?

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Sexism is alive and well, oh yes

  1. Speaking as a bloke here, in my own personal capacity, I dunno. The points you make are fair but at the same time what about the best person for the job? You could have pointed out that Zoe, the female judge, was from down south – as were many of the judges – so is there no one in Scotland good enough to judge? Perhaps the females approached were just too busy to put in the (quite hefty) time requirement of judging?

    I also think it’s unfair of you to criticise the “passive agressiveness” of the Twitter chat when – IIRC – it was started by you. You can’t expect to make a comment online and not expect others to come back with their point of view – they may not agree with you 100% (or they may).

    Also, it may not be passive agressiveness – it could quite simply be that someone disagrees with you.

    And the Social Buzz Awards asked for nominations for judges via online – there was not one female put forward as far as I can recall.

    (Note, I’m not saying there are females not incredibly good at social media – there are many. And the point was made on the night – in reflection of the chat happening on Twitter – that females are traditionally the better communicators.)

    I would also point out that using one event – well, two if we take the night event and the judging as two things – to deem an industry full of sexism is absolute nonsense that does the writing on this blog no favours. I’ve been to events where the majority of people have been female, I’ve been to events where it’s more male and there are events where it is roughly 50/50. In an age where there are so many female-run businesses in PR and comms, I think you’re looking for a battle that isn’t necessarily there (and in doing so are wasting time when there are battles to be fought elsewhere).

    On a closing note, you criticise the Awards for their lack of female involvement yet trumpet She Says (which I’m gathering from a quick look around the web was female only) – double standards no?

    Anyway, just my 5p.

  2. BTW I would very strongly dispute the use of the word “argument” over the Twitter chat. There was no shouting, nastiness or fallouts, just civil discourse and debate.

  3. katebordwell

    Hi Craig, thanks for your comments. I, like lots of people, have steered clear from talking about any inequalities or discrimination because a) as I say, I rarely experience it directly and b) it’s a can of worms. But after reading about #toomanywhitemen and now experiencing what I did last week I felt it was time to say something, and I welcome the discourse.

    In reponse to your comments, I am sorry if I wasn’t clear on a couple of points. You make the valid point that I could have also said that we ‘needed’ to get speakers from outside Scotland and this is another subject for debate about Scotland having a second rate industry (which I don’t think it does, it has great agencies and marketers and some rubbish ones too.)

    I absolutely agree that we should always go with the best person for the job, but you pointed out the main problem here is that because the same men are always in the spotlight they are the ones people think of – while there are plenty of great women working away, they’re not being nominated/invited/talked about as much. This is why I support She Says as it helps young female talent progress, and puts them in the spotlight, when they wouldn’t normally have a chance. Maybe you’re right that women were too busy but surely most men are as busy as women? We don’t all have to juggle a job and family life.

    I didn’t start the Twitter debate, there were some others in there too. I was adding my voice to the debate. I put my comment in because I wanted people to come back with their point of view and I took the point that the judges hadn’t been chosen, they had been nominated, and backed down. I have no problem with people disagreeing with me. My ego is very healthy and robust! And I work in an agency where debate and discussion makes us come up with better ideas. It felt passive agressive because we were complaining about something in a nippy way. Simple as that. As I say, I’d rather have talked about it up front.

    ‘Females are better communicators’ is just one of those silly generalisations. It’s probably true. We are rubbish at directions and we can talk on the phone while we do the hoovering. I just don’t think it’s relevant. If it is relevant, then all 8 of the panel should have been women, and everyone should have thought of women nominees. That event was billed as being about insight and innovation and it was disappointing.

    I’m not using this single example as the basis for my argument. It’s only as far as my direct experience goes. If you look at the Edward Boches link you’ll see it is the case time and again, at Cannes, Planningness, high profile international events and conferences. I’m just asking that we talk about it and that the issue is raised and thought about in Scotland.

  4. Great post, I’m glad the person who shared it with me did, I don’t agree 100% that the reason most of the forefront people in Social Media are men is because of sexism but more because it is an industry still finding it’s feet. People who should know don’t and so they scramble around to find someone who ‘knows’, they check their circle of friends, old school chums etc and churn out someone to represent it on the basis they once had a twitter lesson from them. There are so many frauds out there, working in Social Media, in Edinburgh certainly, is like being in the Big Brother House, everyone is techy, watching what others are doing, playing their own game, forgetting what’s going on in the outside world and ultimately want to win, to be crowned an expert. Maybe men do have more time to do this, I was asked at an event recently, “How do you have so much time to do Social Media, I mean don’t you have children?”, it was said with a sneer as if I neglect my children to send an update. What may shock you more is that it was said to me by a fellow ‘woman in digital’, albeit with a little drink inside her. It made me wonder if that was the general perception by our peers? Do we take ourselves seriously?

    I grew up with 5 brothers and I seem to have fought my whole life to portray to my parents that I could do more than my brothers despite the fact I am female. I am happy to report I have time and time again surprised them. I don’t particularly consider myself a feminist but I do consider myself an equal to anyone who crosses my path, male or female.

    Violins away and back to business, Yes, I agree Scotland needs a decent event for women. I attended the She Says event in Edinburgh with high hopes and was really looking forward to the speakers. Leanne Rinning in particular, head of Online PR at a big digital agency has good knowledge to impart. She however couldn’t make it and was replaced last minute. There were three good speakers however and I came away with a little insight from a creative point of view but not on a Digital level in any form. I left a little disillusioned.
    I will be brutally honest and say I thought the event lacked any real direction. It said Women in Digital on the invite but men made up half of the audience, while I am not sure that women should start a secret Woman’s club with special handshakes I do think She Says events in future should learn from the events held in New York and London and serve up a really well orchestrated event for women.
    Maybe when this great, fantastic platform is exploited for all it’s worth then other women in digital will get the confidence they need, start to take themselves and their peers more seriously and go along to MAKE this a great event.
    I await the next one.

  5. katebordwell

    Hi Karlie, thanks for your comment.

    I’m sorry you felt a bit disillusioned by the last She Says event – as you say it was just finding its feet (in fact it was the brave efforts of just one organiser). It could have been better promoted to attract a wider audience and a more varied discussion afterwards would have been ideal.

    We intend to talk about ‘digital’ in all its forms (there are very few non-digital means of communication these days) and creativity is very important to that, but we will cover as many topics as we possibly can in the coming months and years.

    It’s good feedback though and we’ll definitely bear it – and anything else you’d like to add – in mind when we organise the next one. It’s not meant to be just ‘for women’ but it is about giving a platform for women, so all the speakers, mentors and mentees are women. Men can come along because they might find the presentations and workshops interesting too. Please also feel free to get involved on the organisational side – it’s open to everyone who cares. 🙂

  6. I have some quite mixed opinions on this subject.

    On the one hand some of the people I respect the most in social media are women, take for example Amy ‘Bacon Queen’ Vernon. Amy is regularly invited to be on panels and is incredibly sought after. I genuinely believe that in social media, where so many ‘micro tasks’ are required to achieve authority and results, women and their, perhaps stereotyped, multitasking abilities are better suited than men.

    On the other hand, particularly in Scotland, women in social media aren’t making enough noise, though, again one of the people I respect most in social media here just happens to be a woman, Annie Boyd. In fact, Annie’s post that I have linked to expresses, much more eloquently, what I am trying to say. Craig’s point above, that merit, rather than gender should be the deciding factor. My wife, Wiebke Burnett is another prime example of a social media powerhouse, who happens to be a woman.

    In between both hands, across genders, there is a problem that very often the people who are speaking about social media aren’t practicing it at a high level. Men and women alike, who I’ve discussed this with, who have a great deal of experience in social media see this as the biggest problem in Scotland’s social media scene. People, irrespective of gender, talking the talk despite not ever having even taken the first step of walking the walk, speaking, presenting, ‘coaching’ and consulting on social media. When I see people who follow more people than follow them back on Twitter, giving presentations which are blatant Seth Godin ripoffs I absolutely despair.

    Let us, women and men of social authority, boys and girls of ‘clout’ (as opposed to klout), female and male social media practitioners (as opposed to theorists) work together to improve the social media scene in Scotland. Let us acknowledge that there are talented people at every level and that as such they are best working at that level and not trying to pass themselves off as experts, irrespective of the gender they happen to have.

  7. katebordwell

    Well said, Andrew. Thanks for posting.

    Thanks Karlie – that’d be great!

  8. Hi all,
    I’ve only just noticed all the comments here and it is just fantastic to see people taking notice. Karlie we would love to have you involved, as you noticed we could do do with help spreading the word and organisation. The next event will be taking place in Glasgow and I would like it to happen ideally in the next month or two. Kate- fantastic article, will we convene over email and start talking dates?

  9. There really isn’t an excuse for all-male panels at events. It’s not like there’s a shortage of smart women, but they are invisible, I’m sorry to say. I’ve seen a few cases of male speakers saying that they will refuse to speak on all-male panels in future, but I guess that might not make a difference unless prominent speakers join in. Maybe we need an equivalent of the Bechdel Test for conferences?

  10. katebordwell

    Hi Dominique – yes! Sorry – will drop you a note.

    Hi Gordon, thanks for your comment. Had to google ‘Bechdel test’ – but yes, haha, that is a good idea! Why are women invisible? Perhaps this is something I should explore further…

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