The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 announced bad news recently. It has found that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased by a generation, the future closing of the global gender gap, from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.
The Gender Gap refers to the continuing inequality between women and men, especially as reflected in social, political, intellectual, cultural, or economic attainments or attitudes.
Progress towards gender parity is stalling in several large economies and industries, partly due to women being more frequently employed in sectors that have been hardest hit by lockdowns, combined with the additional pressures of providing care at home.
Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, World Economic Forum, says:
The pandemic has fundamentally impacted gender equality in both the workplace and the home, rolling back years of progress. If we want a dynamic future economy, it is vital for women to be represented in the jobs of tomorrow. Now, more than ever, it is crucial to focus leadership attention, commit to firm targets and mobilize resources. This is the moment to embed gender parity by design into the recovery.
Women who began their careers just a few decades ago, whatever the profession, have many stories to tell about the women who were in management positions at that time. These women, who could have helped them rise, but who invariably discriminated against younger female colleagues, because there was such a scarcity of jobs at the top. It is clear now that trying to be ‘one of the boys’ rarely works as a successful career strategy.
Raising each other up and channeling the power of women's collaboration is the only way we will change our future and there are many organizations that are already harnessing the power of women supporting women.
A fine example of women's collaboration is the See It Be It program. Since 1954, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, has been bringing the creative communications industry (advertising) together every year at its event in Cannes, France. In 2014 the organization launched the See It Be It program to address and correct the advertising industry's under representation of female creatives.
The program is open for women internationally with 5-10 years' industry experience, women who are on their way to becoming creative leaders in their companies, women at creative agencies and women in creative positions in other related businesses. The program provides an executive learning program, mentoring sessions with industry leaders, both male and female, an international network of aspiring female creative directors.
Krystle Mullin , the RPA Creative Director, was mentored by advertising trailblazer Madonna Badger, during the 2017 Cannes Lions See It Be It program. She says,
"I really struggled before this program to find a female leader who would send the elevator down so-to-speak. The women in this program are those in the industry that recognize that if we want to go far, we have to go together. They're saying, 'I want to send the elevator back down. I don't want to be alone on this island. I want more women.' They're making the conscious decision to be an ally for other women."
In the business of photography "sending the elevator back down" to seek out and employ women and non-binary photographers, benefits all stake holders, from a brand's management to its employees and customers. In the United States and other industrial countries women make up to 85% of all consumer purchases (source, Forbes 2019) and so it is quite extraordinary that our view point in advertising, is still not the dominant one. Also employing women photographers to photograph women can be a safeguard against male harassment, or worse, of female models.
The white heterosexual male point of view that has dominated all visual art for centuries, no longer represents the majority of the audience for films, advertising, photography and art. The all-pervasive male gaze is as relevant to modern society today, as making fire with flint stones.
FFU writer Emily Rose Larsen wrote an excellent three part essay about the reality and theory of the female gaze, an expression that is becoming mainstream. The female gaze aims to depict women not as a fantasy for men, but as real human beings. In doing so, this gaze not only portrays women realistically, but more importantly, as we would like to be seen.
In an interview with the Observer newspaper, Ginette Vincendeau, a professor of film studies at King's College London warns that it is simplistic to assume that films (or photography, advertising and art) by women will automatically be feminist, but she says that in the female gaze,
"There's more of an equal power relation between the person depicted and the person depicting, which is to me a feminist gesture."
And this is precisely the power of the female gaze, at its best, it portrays the full gamut of women's lives. The best depictions of people are not about bodies at all, but about the experiences and emotions the person is feeling. It seems therefore both logical and commercially profitable to employ more women and non-binary creatives.
An organization (non-profit) that champions the work of women and non-binary photographers is Equal Lens. The platform is designed to create new and equal opportunities in commercial photography and their website and Instagram showcase talented women to make it simple to create inclusive lists when commissioning. In 2019, Equal Lens found that women accounted for less than 25% of those represented by 70 leading UK commercial photography agents.
Jaki Jo Hannan, who created Equal Lens, and is Integrated Producer at the adam&eveDDB agency, says,
"I am passionate about all aspects of inclusion. In 2019, I teamed up with inspiring industry women to launch Equal Lens. We use our website and social media to share our ethos and mission as well as create momentum through industry articles, talks and events. Coronavirus has rocked countless industries including photography, so in this time of isolation Equal Lens launched "Two meters of separation", an online competition to showcase the wonderful photography of women and non-binary photographers."
Shelley Zalis, founder and CEO of The Female Quotient that works with Fortune 500 companies to advance equality in the workplace, wrote in a Forbes article in 2019:
Women trying to rise up into leadership face cultural and systemic hurdles that make it harder for them to advance…… a way to overcome some of these hurdles is to form close connections with other women, who can share experiences from women who have been there, done that ….
Thanks to the internet it is now possible for us to connect with other women, both locally and internationally.
A platform that brings together women and nonbinary visual journalists, is Women Photograph, a non-profit that launched in 2017. The private database includes more than 1,000 independent documentary photographers based in 100+ countries and is available to commissioning editors and organizations that want to employ more women journalists. The site has an excellent Women’s Photography Organizations page that covers many different countries, with the emphasis on documentary photography, as well as a page for current grants and scholarships.
Concerning fine art photographers or lens based art, the Cincinnati group photograpHERS is a great example of a small local group of women supporting each other. They describe themselves as:
".... A Women's Collective ... a small group of Cincinnati fine art photograpHERS, who have the desire to create a sisterhood for lens based art. We explore what it means to create work as women. We seek to support each other in a distinctly feminine way at our monthly meetings, we show our work and challenge each other to go deeply into our nature. We provide a safe and nurturing environment, and our hope is to create new work that explores our uniqueness as women. "
A determined and rather long search on your favorite search engine will probably reveal similar groups and networks in your country or local community. And if you can not find any, why not create your own?
In the words of the late, great poet, writer, actor and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou:
"You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise."
This is first verse of the iconic poem Still I Rise published in 1978. Although, Maya Angelou's writing evolved from her experience as a woman of color, born in the United States in 1928, her sublimation of women's ability to persist and persevere in rising above adversity, is still as relevant and inspiring today.
What better way to rise, than to rise together, women helping, encouraging and employing women.