So your production partner is ‘woman-owned’, but is it woman-run?
Leslie Harro, owner and EP of Havoc Content, identifies how a system which relies on good faith is being undermined, leading to clients missing out on the true value which comes from working alongside a woman-run company.
First up, the good news: People want to work with women-owned companies.
Our industry has arrived at a cultural moment where we’re serious about elevating the voices of more diverse storytellers, and this has included a drive from clients to partner with women-owned businesses on their productions. That’s absolutely a good thing, and many brands are now writing up women-owned shortlists for the production partners they choose to work with.
It’s become an asset for businesses in our industry to burnish their progressive credentials by championing female leadership, as well-intentioned clients look to allocate more of their budgets to women. For an industry which has always struggled with breaking away from a white male-dominated culture, this is an overdue and welcome correction. Long may it continue.
There’s never been a better time to be a woman-owned production company, right? Well, there’s certainly never been a better time to be seen as woman-owned.
So there’s never been a better time to be a woman-owned production company, right? Well, there’s certainly never been a better time to be seen as woman-owned. Unfortunately, and like so many systems, the process of credibly identifying yourself as a woman-owned company is easily subverted, opaque, and often vulnerable to being outright gamed. It's hard to feel as though there’s a fair playing field when we see companies claiming to be ‘women-owned’ when women do not actively participate in the highest levels of business operations. There is, after all, a difference between ‘women-owned’ and ‘women-run’.
The root of the problem, in simplistic terms, is that a male business owner can portray his company as ‘women-owned’ (and in so doing qualify for one of the aforementioned women-owned shortlists) simply by listing a woman’s name - even that of a wife/daughter/sister - on an ownership certificate.
It's hard to feel as though there’s a fair playing field when we see companies claiming to be ‘women-owned’ when women do not actively participate in the highest levels of business operations.
As well as making a mockery of this cultural moment, these tactics are especially irresponsible because they lead clients to miss out on the true value which comes with working alongside a women-run company. As a result, it’s less likely that those clients will prioritise working with women-run companies in the future because, in their experience, there'll be no meaningful difference between them and the same old male-run companies.
Diversify Your Interests
The benefit of diversity (on top of it simply being the right thing to do) is a broader range of stories and storytellers. Brands get value out of that, because it helps them to connect with different parts of their audience - or indeed to create new audiences - in a profoundly authentic way. It means they won’t get chewed out on social media for misjudging the tone or pandering. Enlisting the help of diverse storytellers is the best way for brands to tell stories which mean something to more people.
By working with a woman-run company, you’ll be alongside a partner which understands the value of elevating voices that wouldn’t otherwise be there.
It’s perfectly possible to build up a strong and diverse roster, but it doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a goal which needs to be relentlessly pursued. Not simply for the sake of ticking boxes, but rather because of the understanding that the more a person has struggled on their way to becoming an artist, the better a storyteller they will be. They’ll be more adept at identifying human truths which resonate. By working with a woman-run company, you’ll be alongside a partner which understands the value of elevating voices that wouldn’t otherwise be there.
It comes down to being serious and intentional with the people you hire across your teams. On a couple of occasions, I’ve explained to directors that as much as I want to work with you, I need to put my efforts towards working with more diverse and underrepresented talent. In my experience, even though it’s easier to promote the same faces and backgrounds which have already enjoyed success, women-run companies know the inherent value of diversifying despite the long-term commitment it takes.
The next time you sign up to work with a ‘women-owned’ company, take the time to check what they mean by that.
Ultimately, that’s why working with truly women-owned businesses is such a great thing for clients - they know they are working with someone who invariably has gone above and beyond to forge a career based on skill, dedication, and passion. As a female and hispanic business owner, I know better than most what that looks like.
So, the next time you sign up to work with a ‘women-owned’ company, take the time to check what they mean by that. Our culture has arrived at a point where we have a historic chance to elevate women and diverse storytellers more broadly. To put right something which has been wrong in our industry for too long.
Instead of ticking a box, let’s make sure we truly take this opportunity.