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Will the ad industry’s new Sheryl Sandberg-backed award go far enough on gender equality?

Carla Fernandez, GM of Enso.Carla Fernandez, GM of Enso.
Carla Fernandez, GM of Enso.Photograph by Davi Sing Liu

Today, creative leaders will gather at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for the presentation of an award that digs deeper than best use of a billboard or biggest laugh: The Cannes Glass Lion, recognizing work that addresses gender inequality and prejudice in advertising.

But will our industry settle for celebrating brands that are talking the talk? In order for the Glass Lion to truly be an “award for change,” we need to praise companies that are practicing equality, not just promoting it.

There has been a surge of pro-gender equality content released by brands in the last few years, creating hope that brand-driven media is finally shifting to favor inclusivity. Take the Always “Like a Girl” campaign, which attempted to expose and explode gender stereotypes.

Then there’s the Under Armour’s “I Will” campaign that depicts women as athletes, not eye candy.

And the continuation of Cheerio’s Gracie campaign, which stars a biracial girl—allowing diverse audiences to see someone like them celebrated on the screen.

While the new award category is a step in the right direction, the question remains: Is rewarding companies based on how well they market feminism is the right way to judge and celebrate impact? If pro-feminist ads aren’t attached to meaningful policy that supports women and families, should they be walking away with a Lion?

I ask that Cindy Gallop, Trista Sen, Elizabeth Nyamayaro and other the members of the jury grant positive reinforcement to a campaign that goes beyond just attaching the brand to a feel-good cause. Instead, let’s honor work that is tied to a brand and business that empowers its female workers.

Judges: Does your winner support the working family, like Johnson & Johnson, which recently extended its maternity leave policy to 17 paid weeks? Is the brand ensuring women are represented in executive roles (think Marriott, where 58% of managers are female and 34% of executives are women)? And what about the company’s pay structure? Does it beat the nationwide pay gap, where full-time working women earn 77% of what their male counterparts earn?

The creative community will be watching to see what the industry chooses to reward. Let’s hope for an ad that gives us goosebumps—and a brand that puts its rhetoric to work in the real world.

Carla Fernandez is the general manager of Enso, a Los Angeles-based advertising agency.