Trouble in Cannes: Cindy Gallop calls out James Hurman’s book for sexism

At this year’s edition of the Cannes Festival of Creativity, the second edition of James Hurman’s book, ‘The Case for Creativity’, was distributed to every Cannes delegate.

Under most circumstances it would’ve been a great honour for a New Zealander to have his work on such a grand stage, and in front of such an estimable audience.

However, things didn’t pan out quite as well as Hurman would’ve hoped, with the book ending up in the hands of well-respected advertising consultant and champion of women’s rights in the industry Cindy Gallop, who pointed out on Twitter to her 42,000 followers that the publication doesn’t credit a single female contributor—something particularly disconcerting given it features contributions from thinkers across the world.

Was there not a single woman across advertising or business that merited inclusion in a book on the value of creativity? ​Hurman responded to Gallop on Twitter, acknowledging that she was right, that more women should’ve been interviewed and that he “hadn’t thought about it” until he read her Tweet.

Local advertising executive and former Shine planning director Kate Smith expressed disappointment in Hurman’s response, questioning the fact that he “hadn’t thought about it”.


A possible reason for Hurman not thinking about it—and a counter argument offered by a source who preferred to remain anonymous—is that the book primarily serves as an objective—or scientific—analysis, based on data, that proves the effectiveness of creativity and that the predominantly male commentary was secondary to the overall point.

The problem is that so-called “objectivity” is always premised on the personal position of the analyst. Perhaps, one of the best references to this is found in Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan’s explanation on why the post-colonial philosopher Frantz Fanon was so militant in his analysis of the psychology of oppression when compared to his European predecessors and contemporaries:

“European philosophers … had characteristically ignored the wretched servitude and torment of blacks under slavery and colonialism. Even when they studied the problem of oppression in Europe, they tended to approach it from academic ivory towers. Their thoughts on oppression ineluctably had the quality of philosophical fascination and subjective distance. To Fanon, in contrast, the experiences of slavery and colonialism had a personal immediacy and urgency.”

The point here is that it’s easier to be scientific and objective when you are the one in the position of privilege. 

Hurman did reiterate in his email response that Gallop’s assessment was correct.   

“When I read her tweet and thought about it, my heart sank, as she was right,” he said. 

“I had been so focused on gathering material for the book and not at all on who that material came from. The book should have represented a better balance. Cindy was right to call it out, and to advocate as she does for better gender diversity in the advertising industry.”

Both on Twitter to Gallop and in his statement to StopPress, Hurman conceded that “unconscious bias” affects many of the choices made by those working in the industry and that his book also falls into this category.

This “unconscious bias” was also evident at this year’s edition of the Axis Speakers series, featuring seven men and no women, and at 2014’s Auckland as a Creative City conference, which had a panel of six men (among them Hurman).

The problem here isn’t that panels are being dominated by men who may well be deserving of sharing their thoughts, but rather that the unconscious bias that lets this happen plays out at an industry level, impacting the decisions that executives make.   

Hurman did, however, add in his defence that in his time as an executive in ad land he consistently appointed women to executive roles. 

“Despite how the book might appear, taking practical steps within the industry to promote and support female leaders is something I’ve very consciously prioritised,” he said.

“When Josh Moore and I ran Y&R in New Zealand, we hired a female GM of the creative agency, a female GM of the media agency, a female creative director, who was Josh’s second in charge, a female head of production and a female CFO. We had the strongest gender balance in our executive team of any large New Zealand agency – something that I worked for and am proud of.”

Recent data also shows that the percentage of women in creative director roles has increased from three to 11 percent in recent years, so things are changing.  

Despite these improvements, Hurman recognises that the job isn’t done and says he will be meeting with Gallop while in Cannes to discuss how he can continue to help. If anything, this is timely reminder that there’s more to Cannes than just Lions. It also creates a space where difficult discussions like these can take place.

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