Through a lens: Creativity has always been within a male filter bubble


Diversity and inclusion has increasingly become a topic of discussion within companies, bringing on board more female leaders and minorities into the organisation. According to a 2018 report by McKinsey & Company on gender equality in particular, advancing women’s equality in Asia Pacific countries could add US$4.5 trillion to their collective annual GDP in 2025, a 12% increase over the business-as-usual trajectory.

During the recent IPG Women’s Leadership Network Breakfast session, chairman and CEO Michael Roth (pictured) said the network has made diversity and inclusion part of its DNA because diversity of thought and creativity is critical to its success.

“It actually makes a difference. The reason our company, fortunately, is outperforming our sector and other companies is because we embrace inclusion and diversity. Companies that do that perform better in terms of meeting the needs of our clients and shareholder returns,” he explained, adding that about 30% of IPG’s board of directors are female.

Roth added that with the capabilities and messaging that the advertising industry has, it is important that agencies represent individuals in the work that they do for clients. This is because consumers worldwide will look at the work, how individuals are represented in that work and that shapes the way the younger consumers view women, diverse individuals and those with disabilities.

Achieving gender equality in companies is undoubtedly more tangible as compared to something abstract such as creativity. While creativity is the life blood of the advertising industry, it has yet to be established whether creativity can truly be gender neutral.

Also present at the session and moderating a panel discussion was Uma Rudd Tan (pictured second from left), creative director, Weber Shandwick Singapore, who said that those who are awards driven might tend to create work targeted not necessarily at the consumers they are supposed to engage with. Instead, they create work for a certain type of target audience, the judging panel at awards who happen to be mainly men. Drawing from her first foray into the Cannes Festival of Creativity a few years back when she was with another creative agency, Tan explained that the scene was simply dominated by men from judges to attendees.

“That meant that when you create work and you want to win awards and be respected as a creative, you create it for the people who are going to judge your work and deem you a worthy creative,” Tan said.  She added that back then, like many other creatives in the industry, she started creating work to win awards, regardless of whether they were a true representative of her beliefs.

“Some of them did win awards but they are not work that I’m incredibly proud of, which made me think about the perimeters that define what good creative work is,” Tan said. She added:

Just by the ratio of the number of male and female leaders, creativity has always been within a male filter bubble.

Meanwhile, Lizi Hamer (pictured right), ECD, Octagon APAC said that agencies should be aware that they should not be creating for awards systems. In fact, the most effective work out there is the one that actually moves people.

“Being really aware of the territory and space that you are playing in and trying to make sure you are working the target audience and giving them something that they have never had before, and entertaining them in way that they have never seen. I think working to that kind of audience is something we need to be aware of,” Hamer explained.

At Octagon, Hamer specialises in sports and entertainment which she described as “a really cool space to play in” because the team is ultimately engaging with fans on that one same matter that they are passionate about, regardless of gender.

Fandom is an interesting one. It probably takes gender out of the equation because nobody picked what they are passionate about. It’s just the thing that you are into.

As such, Hamer and her team leverages on this to identify stories in the various passion points they would like to build on and elevate in their creative work.

Lack of gender neutrality in the creative arts scene

While the battle for gender equality rages on in the advertising scene, Singapore’s creative arts scene is also not spared from the inequality. Singaporean visual artist Sam Lo (pictured left), also popularly known as “The Sticker Lady”, said she initially entered the creative arts scene with a “romanticised version” of how creativity and art was like, thinking that it was gender neutral.

However, Lo eventually came to realise that it was not the case, as only a small percentage of the individuals at art fairs, for example, were women. As such, she began to think about the female representation in the creative arts and why there were so few females in the industry.

“I spoke to some of my peers about this before and they used to say that it is because men are more straightforward in not just their ideas or their vision, they actually go on and do it. But women are more passive so we let someone else speak in front of us,” she explained.

According to her, the creativity in the creative arts scene is a two-way street. The artists create for both themselves and in the hopes of inspiring others. Meanwhile, the advertising industry creates to target a specific demographic. As such, she said that in the creative arts industry, it is about finding the balance and breaking down stereotypes to eventually reach a “neutral vacuum”.

She added that when she first began pasting stickers around Singapore, she wanted to “take the public space back” and make them more relevant to Singaporeans again and let them recognise the streets as their home.

“The work that I do is always going to be centred around being meaningful. It talks about where I am from, different social issues and it’s all filled by people around me,” she explained.

Gender difference in creative execution

To some companies, China might be a whole different ball game in terms of consumers’ needs, experiences, and the way brands should engage with them. According to Sheena Jeng (pictured second from right), CCO, McCann Worldgroup China, females in the country look for harmony, as well as relationships with the society and surroundings.

While everyone starts off with the same brief, Jeng said there is a gender difference when it comes to storytelling. For women, storytelling tends to be “sensitive” and delves into details of a relationship, for example. This is unlike storytelling done by males which is “very structured, very straightforward and very sharp”. “For women, perhaps there is more free space for them to think and to have a sense of themselves and be imaginative,” she explained.

Jeng also believes in diversity when putting together a team. Citing the popular Chinese novel Journey To The West as an example, she said that just like the different main characters in the novel – the monk, monkey king, pig and disciple – her team also has different versatile personalities. Together, they form the “mission incredible team” and can help take the agency to greater heights.

Also weighing in is Octagon’s Hamer, who said that instead of differentiating between gender when it comes to creativity, she wants to push for a world that focuses more on empathy, gathering insights from consumers and finding true stories to tell to the world. “I don’t want to be in a world where only men can do work in sports and only women can make beauty products,” Hamer said.

Citing the “Strength to Care” campaign that she did in 2016 for Dove Men featuring Australian rugby player David Pocock, Hamer explained that that the main aim of the campaign was to change masculinity in Australia and show that men are not just knights on white horses. Instead, they are able to have “a dainty armour”, they are human and they need to be seen that way also. In addition to this, Hamer wants to show that despite being a female, she is still as capable of creating work that is targeted at the other gender. At the end of the day, it is more than just about gender but more of understanding the topic, regardless of gender, and delivering the work.