Jane Austin from Cannes: this year it’s girls on top – nearly

Chrissy Teigen is one of the funniest, sarkiest people on Twitter. The celebrity wit, author, and wife of John Legend, once tweeted: “I always have a note in my pocket that says “John did it” just in case I’m murdered because I don’t want him to remarry.” Teigen is at Cannes this year but sadly won’t be speaking on any panels or giving a keynote. She’s here because her husband is on the main stage with P&G’s Marc Pritchard. Much as I admire John Legend, I’m slightly gutted that we won’t also have this brilliant, hilarious woman entertaining us.

Over the years at Cannes we’ve tended to hear a lot more from men (particularly white middle aged men) than women. But things are getting a bit better, for women at least. Research from events company Bizzabo shows that Cannes Lions beats other events of its type on gender diversity. At Cannes, 56 per cent of the speakers are male and 44 per cent are women (compared to a typical 69 per cent male and 31 per cent female split in events and conferences generally).

Also, this year, you can hardly move for sessions and initiatives addressing the industry’s gender diversity problem, such as the inVisibleCreatives, the Unstereotype Alliance, the See It Be It initiative and Creative Equals. As good as it is to see the diversity issue firmly on the agenda within the industry, nothing much will happen without men and women addressing their own individual biases. Society continues to police women on what we wear, how we act and how we speak – limiting our freedom to just be ourselves.

The policing of women isn’t just the preoccupation of male misogynists. Women are every bit as capable of putting other women ‘in their place.’ I remember attending a WACL event a few years back where the brilliant Kirsty Wark was speaking. After her speech in which she talked about her career as a broadcaster, journalist and writer, the first question she got from a woman in the audience was: “I like you on the Late Review but what were you wearing on the show last Friday?”.

I also remember being asked if my career wasn’t too much for me when I had a small child, told that I was old-school when I was 40 and then, a few years later, that as I was “older” I would show up a younger female client – all comments by women.

Remember that feminism requires women to stop judging other women. Catch yourself if you police a woman’s behaviour in the workplace, or anywhere, in a way you would never do to a man. Centuries of social conditioning is not going to disappear overnight but the first step is having at least a modicum of awareness about what you as an individual are doing to help or hinder other women.

After her appointment as a ‘See It Be It’ ambassador, Swati Bhattacharya, the chief creative officer at FCB Ulka, noted that women’s voices don’t always cooperate. “I want us to leave Cannes believing that not only must we invite ourselves, but also leave the door open for our sisters,” she said.

If we as women don’t work on our attitudes towards other women, we risk the fight for gender equality becoming just another empty echo chamber or buzzed about topic du jour. Outwardly we are all nodding in agreement and making the right noises together but has our behaviour towards each other really changed? The work has to begin now while gender diversity is still high on the agenda. As the great Chrissy Teigen once said, feminism means “having the power to do whatever the f–k you want.” Make sure you’re not complicit in denying women that power.

Jane Austin is the owner of Persuasion.

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