The average consumer is exposed to between 3,000 and 10,000 advertising messages in a single day, says Alma Har’el, and over 94% of them were created by men. That probably explains why women are always smiling in tampon ads. Har’el is trying to change the gender imbalance in advertising with Free The Bid, her nonprofit that’s encouraging the world’s biggest marketers to include more female directors.
The name of the nonprofit comes from a stage in the advertising process. At the bidding stage, agencies usually present three directors per spot — an it’s typically an all-male slate. Thanks to years of gender bias, women often don't have a competitive enough reel, which allows agencies to argue they don’t include women because they “can’t find” any qualified talent.
That's where Free the Bid comes in. The initiative asks companies to pledge to "free the bid" by including at least one woman director in that initial pool.
“Taking the pledge doesn't mean that you have to hire a woman,” Har’el says. “But you do have to give her the opportunity to compete and prove herself.”
In the first year, Free The Bid has seen amazing results: “Within one year, some agencies reported increases of up to 400% in their hiring of women directors since taking the pledge, and a few agencies approached parity.”
Free the Bid is also helping companies find women directors, and women for other roles in the industry. They have a curated database of more than 400 female directors and film editors that’s searchable by dozens of intersectional categories to help narrow the search, so agencies can find the perfect woman for any job.
Companies like 72AndSunny, Coca-Cola, and Twitter have already taken the pledge. But Har’el recognizes that Free The Bid has to focus on intersectionality as well, so all women get their fair shot.
“We have grown to be a worldwide movement and have branches in Brazil, Mexico, Australia, UK, Germany, Chile, and more,” she says. “We're making particular efforts to uplift an intersectional array of voices and perspectives. It not lost on us that roadblocks to opportunity don't look the same for all women.”
#GettingTo5050, a global movement rooted in actionable tools and resources, aims to catalyze the conversations that will inspire a more gender-balanced world. Because true equality doesn't just lift women—it lifts everyone. Learn more here. And click here to read Refinery29's profiles of eight women fighting for equality every day.