Women wanted: Why awards juries need more female voices

Lynn Lester, managing director of events, The Drum

It’s the hot topic that we’re all talking about – as an industry we are producing polls, events, content and of course social media hype to address the gender inequality that still sadly exists in today’s world. And many businesses are treating it as a serious CSR issue.

As a female, I am a big advocate of gender focused initiatives in the industry and believe more businesses and individuals should be encouraged to be proactive. However there comes a point when many women need to take a long hard look at what we’re trying to achieve here and get in on the programme. We need to start taking responsibility for our own destiny.

I have been running the awards business at The Drum for many years and it would probably surprise you (or maybe not) to learn of the number of women who turn down invitations to judge. There are many legitimate reasons for the decline but I think it’s also fair to say that there are still confidence issues that need addressing.

Year-on-year, what ends up happening is individuals start vocalising about the low number of women on our juries, but many women are offered the chance but sadly refuse. This is frustrating as we’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place – we need qualified judges but we can’t hang around all day, we have timelines we need to run with.

It’s also disheartening when even friends of The Drum fall into the trap of believing we prefer male judges – it was just the other month when Cindy Gallop, a respected consultant and pro-woman advocate, called us out for having a male majority on one of our judging panels. However, behind the scenes we had been inviting a number of the industry’s leading female figures to take part but understandably to the outside world it may not have looked like that.

The irony is that when women are actually on the panel they are great. They are assertive, have an open mind about what they are looking for from the entries and have the rationale to back up their decisions. I just wish more would embrace the opportunity.

A few months ago you may recall the #panelhack incident on Twitter – a situation where Andrew Grill, global marketing partner of IBM Social Consulting gave up his seat on an all-male panel in favour of a woman protesting in the audience. This was a bold and honourable move from Andrew and good on the lady for seizing the moment but the question has to be asked, were there women invited in the first place? If no then that’s a god damn shame but if yes then we cannot get on our high horse about the final result. Where’s the equality in that?

Should women be given opportunities? Yes. Should women be encouraged? Absolutely. But women have to be held accountable if they turn away these opportunities because the truth of the matter is that they won’t come along every day. We need to push ourselves; we owe that much to those who are working effortlessly to make things better.

Our judges are based purely on their experience and what they can bring to the process – it’s got absolutely nothing to do with their sex, race or even demographic positioning but we do make a concerted effort to ensure it is very accessible to women.

So here’s my pledge – in 2016 I’m up for ensuring our judging panels are fairly represented with both sexes and I’d encourage any woman to get in touch to state their interest and we can have that conversation. Naturally they must be in a senior level to qualify and I make no apologies for politely declining anyone we don’t believe fits the criteria. It’s not a case of if you’re a woman you automatically get in, that would be patronising and unhelpful.

If we collectively work together we’ll re-shape our mindsets and that’s when great things will happen.

And who knows, maybe next year the industry will be praising the make-up of our juries. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook talks about “leaning in” but my advice would be simply to “Get off your bahookie and do something about it”.

Lynn Lester is managing director of events at The Drum, she tweets @Lynnsweettweet.

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