Knox Balbastro
Jul 4, 2016

The big ask: Where are all the Asian women?

DigitasLBi’s Knox Balbastro reflects on her first visit to the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity and has a big ask for the industry.

Knox Balbastro
Knox Balbastro

Thanks to the See It Be It Program, a Cannes initiative to address the gender imbalance at top creative positions, I was invited to be part of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

Standing at the Palais des Festivals, surrounded by the most influential and most eager people in the ad biz, I felt a pang, “Wow, I’ve never felt more Asian…”

Being there was a real privilege as a female creative, but more so as an Asian female creative—because there were so few of us there. I took some time to gather a few thoughts from the other Asian women I had the pleasure to meet and interact with.

I asked Kat Encanto, senior creative at MullenLowe London, why she thought it was important for female creatives, particularly Asian women, to be at Cannes:

We can become visible role models for women in junior roles and change stereotypes of what type of person makes a great creative. Asian women need to be present in the jury room, because we represent two sectors that don’t have a presence. We contribute a different point of view and can expound on cultural insights that help make a more informed decision on awarded work. Cannes is the world’s greatest festival of creativity, and for it to remain so, work we deem as most creative need to represent diverse solutions to the world’s greatest problems.

I asked Attiya Zaidi, See It Be It participant and ECD of Ogilvy & Mather, Karachi, Pakistan, how she felt about being denied a visa by the French Embassy and thus missing the opportunity to go to Cannes:

The French embassy said that the purpose for my visit is unreliablethey couldn't believe that a Pakistani woman is being invited by Cannes. I was heartbroken as I got selected from over 500 women. Not a single woman has made it to Cannes from Pakistan­. We are facing a creative brain drain in the country, where most seniors are leaving advertising to move towards production and the film industry. The See It Be It Program was a dream come true, as it would ensure that I learn the skills to produce and inspire award-winning work.

I asked Merlee Jayme, Cannes speaker and chairmom / chief creative officer at Dentsu JaymeSyfu, Manila, about why she believed moms are the world’s No. 1 target market:

Mothers have superpowers that make her the family’s greatest influencer and the marketing world’s favorite target market. When you talk about anything about the house, about children, about teens or at some point, even young adults, or even the husband, or about women issues, and more so about the health and wellness of the family, you talk to her. That’s why we have to find the right way of talking to her. Brands should take a deep understanding of what makes her tick and what turns her off across cultures.

I asked Jade Tomlin, creative group head at Hugo and Cat, London if she has any advice for young creative women:

To all the girls who don’t think they’ll fit in. Come, win awards, do good work, shout about it. In fact, one of our See It Be It team. Miruna Macri, an art director from McCann, Romania, was the quietest one of our bunch. When I spoke to her yesterday I only found out then she won five Cannes Lions! If that was a guy, he’d be shouting down the strip!

Finally, I asked myself­Knox Balbastro, regional ACD from DigitasLBi, Singaporewhat was the one thing I’ll remember from Cannes:

I will remember Cindy Gallop (who coincidentally is part Chinese) and her talk, “How Advertising Can Change the World”. She had a ton of razor-sharp insights, but one in particular will stay with me. It’s about how changing the makeup of the creative department can influence the work being produced. She reiterated that this is not a fight about gender equalityit is about humanity. The advertising we do has to start reflecting the reality of the world we live in. Being a double minorityfemale creative and Asianthat statement hit home.

I asked all these questions to Asian women in an effort to address a bigger issue: the underrepresentation of women, and particularly Asian women, at Cannes. When you’re not asked to look, you don’t notice creative departments employ the same type of peoplethat most of the people receiving Cannes Lions are Caucasian males.

But once you see it, you can’t unsee it. It took a trip to Cannes to open my eyes. And now for the big ask: Can we make sure there are more of us at Cannes next year?

Knox Balbastro is regional associate creative director at DigitasLBi

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