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Ten years - what happened then? Christina Knight on diversity and equality in the advertising industry
Exactly ten years ago, VARIOUS publishers published my first book - Mad Women - A Herstory of Advertising , a book I wrote based on my own frustration with the communication industry's lack of equality and diversity. A deficiency that not only affects the working environment and culture of advertising agencies, but to a great extent also historically shaped the expression of advertising - sexist images in the company of a continued underrepresentation of large, purchasing power target groups in society and a constant reproduction of age-old stereotypes.
I sat at a rickety desk in Italy and wrote down all the interviews I had conducted with inspiring women around the world; Creative directors, CEOs, Art Directors and Copywriters, women who achieved success, not by adapting to prevailing norms but by challenging them and paving the way for a younger generation of women who stood and hesitated on the threshold into the communication industry. Hesitating, therefore, because already during their education they sensed that they had become part of a boyish culture where they clearly belonged to a minority with different conditions and lower pay than their male colleagues.
Countless are the young women I have talked to, mentored and wiped tears from in conversations about the industry and its future. Since at the beginning of my career as a copywriter in 1986, I basically completely lacked strong, clear and female role models, I wanted to offer other young women exactly what I longed for myself - women who show the way, give tips and advice and inspire through their professionalism and his courage. Which shows that it works, that we help each other and that it is important. In the first edition there were 14, in the second (coming in 2021 together with the audiobook) there were 17. For me personally it was extremely rewarding to meet and talk with these amazing women, but I didn't expect much more after that the book came from the printer and was launched in March 2013. But that said BANG! And suddenly SvD Näringsliv wrote six pages about Mad Women and the industry's challenges; I was interviewed in Aktuellt and for many years toured the world lecturing on the book and what I believed the industry needed to thrive - namely equality and diversity; for the sake of fairness as much as for the relevance and profitability of brands and agencies. It was touching, depressing and at the same time somehow empowering to discover that the problems were the same regardless of whether I was lecturing in Mexico City or in Milan, in Beijing or in Borås - everywhere doors were opened to stories and conversations where more and more women could identify themselves and gather strength, instead of doubting themselves and, in the worst case, leaving the industry altogether.
The conversations continued, women in the industry networked more and more, advertising schools started talking about the elephant in the room, and in 2017 came the #metoo uprising that charitably vented into the darkest and mustiest corners of the patriarchy. The advertising industry joined in with its hashtag #sistabriefen, which I personally think was one of the best appeals because it concretely and instructively required the industry to act and take real responsibility.
But what happened then?
Personally, I valued all the testimonies and the courage behind all the stories shared, but gradually my frustration grew again - we can't 'just' talk, we have to do too. That's why I wrote my second book , Not Buying It - A Guide to a New Era of Advertising, which DIFFERENT publishers published in 2018. It's a more solid, practical guide to how to handle everything from leadership techniques and salary negotiations to racism and recruitment, in order to promote a more egalitarian, equal and diverse culture. Increasingly, I also feel that the generation of advertising women who came after me has a much clearer compass, knowledge, courage and awareness to be able, have the strength and dare to pursue the issues. They raise their hands, create networks, exchange experiences, blacklist agencies with unhealthy values and support each other in moving on to healthier workplaces. The women in advertising are not the problem. Not all men are either; there are fantastic male agency managers and advertising men who want to contribute to a more contemporary, representative and equal industry and world. Sometimes because of the so-called 'daughter effect', sometimes just because they are simply smart, enlightened, equal men who also have a business sense that if advertising is not representative and inclusive, it will not contribute to profitability and growth for the industry either and our clients. Men who contribute instead of engaging in 'push-back', i.e. who do not feel threatened and therefore push back development and success in the field. Who don't join Andrew Tate or Jordan Peterson figures or support Luis Rubiales behaviors, but who dare to stand up and speak out.
Ten years after Mad Women, I feel that more women and more men are aware of the need to jointly drive the issues, the work and the responsibility for greater equality and diversity, so that it is not defined as an HR issue or a women's job - BUT it is at the same time scandalous that development is so slow and that it is constantly threatened by setbacks and questioning. The world today is unfortunately full of misogynistic expressions regarding women's rights and opportunities; the situation in Afghanistan and Iran, for example, is unacceptable and requires our continued commitment and support. The abortion issue, structural racism and constantly restricted rights for LBTQIA+ is extremely problematic, among other things, in the world's largest 'democracy', the USA, not to mention the abuses against women and girls and tooth trafficking that follow in the wake of the war, including now in Ukraine.
Ten years after Mad Women, we can reap some successes but we absolutely cannot rest, but must be constantly vigilant and active in redressing injustice and creating equality. Therefore I continue to both say and do; both writing books, lecturing, working with training courses in my academy Mad Women Academy AND working more tangible, for example as vice-chairman of UN Women Sweden and Fredrika Bremerförbundet's Stockholm-Uppsala circuit.
Do what you do with it. SAY and DO. Every day, so that we can meet again - preferably without it taking ten years - and reap our great successes.
Here you will find Christina Knight's books: