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The Best Awards – is this the best we can do?

I’ve woken up early the day after the annual Best Awards event feeling angry. This year’s event was preceded by a protest about the lack of representation of female winners and judges. Catherine Griffiths dug into the number of Black Pin awards handed out over the years and found that 40 were given to men, and 3 to women. After the award ceremony on Saturday night, those numbers have now changed to 42:3.

As I walked past the protesters and entered the awards venue I expected to hear some interesting conversation about the issue, and was excited about the potential for some thought provoking discussion from speakers throughout the night. I’m disappointed to say that the opposite was true – it was left largely unspoken and instead became a silent elephant in the corner.

The imagery throughout the night was stark. Time after time, the winners heading up on stage were rows of men next to one or maybe (if lucky) two women. Aside from the varying height of the award recipients, they all looked the same. A sea of white middle aged men in black suits, with the woman in her dress standing out like a lone flag.

Why are we not seeing more equal representation amongst the winners, and at the very least the judges? Where are all the women? According to one of the protesters outside, 70 percent of all design graduates are female. If that really is the case, perhaps it is a sign of things to come – that the representation of women is going to change in the future.

The president of DINZ gave a (very) short speech where she briefly acknowledged the protest outside and said that DINZ welcomed this sort of dialogue. I’m disappointed that she didn’t say more – there was no acknowledgement that this wasn’t acceptable, and no hint that there would be a plan for ensuring more of a gender balance in future.

And why, in this year of all years – the 125th suffrage anniversary – could we not have worked a bit harder to find female recipients for the illustrious Black Pin awards?

Chatting to a colleague at my table, he said all it will take is one more generation. The experience his daughter will have in contrast to his wife’s and before that his mothers will be massive. And perhaps that is true. But can we just assume that these changes will take place with the passing of time, or do we need to intervene more to ensure it does?

In the past I have been very anti the concept of quota. As an employer why would I hire someone solely because of her gender if she’s not as good as the male candidate next to her? But I believe intervention of some sort IS needed, because currently our entire society is primed from birth that the image of success, of leadership, is white and male. In order to change subconscious bias, we need to see more people succeeding who look different. And in order for this to happen we need to actively push for equal representation at the highest level.

I’m tired of going to conferences and awards ceremonies with panels dominated by white males. A ratio of anything but 50% is unacceptable. Incredible female leaders and success stories are everywhere, if you can’t find them you’re simply not looking hard enough.

There is no excuse anymore. 50:50 representation needs to be a baseline expectation not an afterthought. #5050

  • This was originally published on LinkedIn.
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