SXSW: Four Women Creatively Assault Institutional Sexism

By SUSAN LAHEY, Senior Writer with Silicon Hills News

You know that movie scene where all the people who have been victimized realize there are more of them than there are of the bad guy? That’s kind of what’s happening with women and marketing these days as a panel called Girl Culture pointed out in SXSW.

The panelists were filmmaker and VR and AR pioneer Nonny de la Pēna of Emblematic Group;

documentary film maker Lauren Greenfield; CMO of consumer beauty at Coty Inc., Ukonwa Ojo; and moderator Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer for Goodby Silverstein & Partners.

Women influence roughly 80 percent of the buying decisions and yet historically have held few positions of power in areas where they feature heavily, such as marketing and film making. But that is beginning to change. The #MeToo movement, for one thing, “taught women all over the world there’s power when we get together,” De La Pēna said. While the narrative about women was that they argue against each other and bring each other down, #MeToo changed the narrative. But more needs to change.

Shattering Stereotypes

For example, De La Pēna said, Amazon did a study about why they kept hiring men when they were aiming for diversity. It turned out that their AI was biased toward people who used the words “capture” and “execute,” phrases women seldom used. “I don’t know how all the guys know to say ‘capture’ and ‘execute,’” she said. Another example was the fact that Rotten Tomatoes’ algorithm did not filter out sexist trolls when rating Captain Marvel.

The bias is institutional, and each of the panelists has battled sexism at its roots. Johnson has fought to gain more and more female representation among Goodby Silverstein partners to the point where there are now four men and four women.

“It has changed everthing,” she said, “the way we work internally, the kind of work pitch, the work we put out in the world….”

Beyond that, she launched an augmented reality app, Lessons in Herstory to correct th fact that women only make up about 11 percent of the narrative in U.S. history books. Hold the app over any history book entry about a man and the app shows you an augmented reality story of a woman who lived at the same time and influenced history.

Ojo has pushed for diversity in several respects, from creating the I Am What I Make Up Cover Girl marketing campaign that included author and chef Ayesha Curry; Issa Rae, the creator of HBO’sInsecure; fitness guru Massy Arias; 69-year-old model Maye Musk; and professional motorcycle racer Shelina Moreda. She also was the first to introduce a new line of cosmetics for all skin tones simultaneously. Historically the launch for products was for people with predominant skin tones first, followed by those of underrepresented groups six months or a year later. It was the most successful product launch in history.

Greenfield, producer of Generation Wealth, The Queen of Versailles and Thin, a record-breaking, Super Bowl ad #LikeAGirl, has created stereotype-shattering marketing videos and documentaries that assault the vision of women that have been cultivated by male marketers and film makers for centuries.

As the panelists pointed out, institutional sexism can seem monolithic. But each has had huge success coming against it “as herself” with her own dreams, creative vision, and personal passion.

Ojo recounted how she moved to the U.S. on her own at the age of 18 from Nigeria. But she was inspired by her mother, who took the baby to London, leaving her other children at home, and studied fashion, then came back and opened her own boutique. This proved, she said, that where you are in life, in your journey, “doesn’t really matter, if you have a dream.”