Ellinor Ekström & Sophie Lokko

The communication business doesn’t care about gender equality, but loves awards all the more. Those two insights made Ellinor Ekström, art director, and Sophie Lokko, copywriter, start Guldvågen – the first gender equality award in the communication business.

Describe how it all started.

Ellinor: We became friends when working together at DDB when we were 19 years old. When we quit we went to different agencies, but still talked a lot about working together.

Sophie: But we realized that talking about work to us often included discussing injustices – everything from not getting “cred” for what we had done, to not being listened to in meeting rooms. We were paid less than our male colleagues even though we had the same role and experience, and we weren’t given the same opportunity to climb the career ladder. We talked about all the sexism that we experienced too, of course.

Ellinor: At the same time, awards like Guldägget were happening, and we started thinking about that. Everyone’s talking about what we’re producing in this business, but why is no one talking about our working environment? Why are there prizes in all the categories except gender equality?

Sophie: Our business is nuts about awards and we thought that if it’s something that could change the standards in an effective way, it has to be an award in gender equality. From that it went really quick from insight to start-up.

Ellinor: I called my friend Elin Lindström who is a metalsmith and asked if she wanted to do a trophy for our new prize. We simply started with the most concrete thing we could think of since a lot still felt quite unclear about our idea. It was good to quickly start talking to others about our project because then it became real.

Sophie: Then we met people in the business and asked hundreds of questions. We embraced a lot of the moments that other awards have, like a gala and an actual trophy. But most importantly, we met a lot of gender equality experts. We realised that we wanted to do this in February 2014 and planned to arrange the gala in May. It took six months longer than we initially thought to start Guldvågen.

Ellinor: We started with 2 000 Swedish crowns each. The money was spent on lunch for the people we were interested in. We needed to build our network and learn a lot from others to move forward.

Sophie: It was easy to get people in on our idea and Guldvågen quickly went from a happening to a bigger movement. The hardest parts were all the practical matters around starting it – from coming up with a name, to starting an association and creating a logo. Also we felt a time pressure, we wanted to get our initiative out before anyone else came up with the same idea.

Ellinor: Most importantly, the questions we wanted to raise were talked about a lot at that time. Komm launched a big campaign where they questioned who gets to be shown in commercials. It was very discussed in the business and we realised that Guldvågen needed to be launched in the backwash of the campaign. Two days later, we did just that and immediately gained some traction. That campaign was just the push we needed.

What’s needed when starting a project like Guldvågen?

Sophie: Deadlines! And an overall excitement to learn new things – in our case it was everything from contests to how you measure gender equality at a workplace and how to start an association.
Ellinor: And a starting budget. Well, we kind of went on more or less without one, but those 2 000 crowns for lunches were very important.

What was the hardest thing about starting?

Ellinor: The project management. We’re two creatives who barely know how to create a time plan. It has been hard to project manage oneself, so we have tried to manage each other a lot. The economy is tough as well.

Sophie: Economy is shit.

Ellinor: Yes.

Sophie: It has actually only gotten harder to start Guldvågen over the years. The first year we just ran, but now we know how much that has to be done. I think all the thoughts before starting up is the hardest part, but as soon as we start working together, it feels good again.

What’s your best advices when it comes to engage people in something that doesn’t exist yet, as with Guldvågen four years ago?

Sophie: You got to have a vision. Ours is that we want to change the business and make it better.

Ellinor: Your idea doesn’t need to be completely done, but it’s good if it’s halfway there. It’s important to receive inputs from others and there’s no prestige in presenting something that isn’t 100% completed yet.

Sophie: Exactly, we invited a lot of people to our start up phase.

Ellinor: We knew what problem we wanted to solve, but we didn’t know exactly how to do it. Asking for help engaged people, and the ones we wanted to collaborate with felt involved in the project.

Sophie: If you know exactly how you want it, it’s easier for others to say no. We were pretty adjustable which turned out to be quite good. But it’s important to find a balance in how much you are willing to compromise – don’t forget to listen to your gut. We met a lot of people who wanted to change our idea way too much. Some didn’t even have the same values as us. They actually thought gender equality was stupid, but understood that it looked good being associated with us. They wanted to use us as their makeup. But what collaborators you choose is especially important when it comes to a non profit project.

What have you learned from starting Guldvågen?

Sophie: It’s really tough, but it’s still easier to make a change than you might think.

Ellinor: It’s an emotional roller coaster to start up a project like Guldvågen. We’re on top every time we’ve met and worked together, and then reality catches up the following morning when we look at the to-do list that we wrote the night before. But one lesson is that everything will work out, no matter how hard it can feel from time to time.

Sophie: It just takes a lot of time.

About time, how are you able to balance Guldvågen with full-time jobs?

Sophie: We could work twice as much with Guldvågen, but we have to put it on a reasonable level. At the same time you can do more than you think. We have a lot of meetings during breakfast and lunches – and holds lectures in the evenings after work. I don’t feel that I’ve had to skip a lot of other things to be able to do this.

Ellinor: We’re laying low a big part of the year as well. But when the awards are closing in, I usually tell my friends that I will disappear a bit for two months. Everyone’s totally onboard with that, they know what we’re doing and support it.

Sophie: This is our baby and new phases pop up all the time. Right now, Guldvågen is a rowdy three-year old that we need to yell “Stop, take it easy!” to sometimes. The older it gets, the faster it runs around and starts living its own life. But we think it’s important to keep our jobs as well. Guldvågen makes me better at my job and my job makes me better at working with Guldvågen.

What’s best about having started Guldvågen?

Sophie: That it produces results – we have actually managed to change the business. Now we have the power to influence for real. Before the awards we send out a poll with questions that the agencies should answer, and those answers become the basis for who will win. After the first year, the agencies knew on what criteria they were being judged by the next year and started working actively with those questions at their respective workplaces. But we develop the pool with new questions every year and it becomes a sort of ”Hi, now you have to shape up when it comes to this and that, as well”. There are always things to develop and to get better at, even for those who are at the top of the list.

Ellinor: We never tell who came last in the contest, but we publish all the agencies that have participated. It becomes obvious which ones that don’t even dare to participate – we’ve made it embarrassing to not work actively with gender equality.

Sophie: I think that everyone should participate in Guldvågen. See the price as a carrot to start up your work for equality for real. There’s nothing to lose.

About Guldvågen – When gender equality swept over the Swedish communication industry

The communication industry becomes weak-kneed by golden eggs and high watts, but blind when it comes to gender equality. That’s why Guldvågen was started. A price that can guarantee the young workers and clients in the Swedish communication industry that the agency isn’t just good at communication, but also a workplace where employees get the right salary, space and encouragement to grow – regardless of gender. Because today agencies are extremely bad at just that. In 2016, the contest was expanded with more categories – Campaign of the year and Inspirer of the year, which celebrates inclusive work and initiatives that strives for a better industry.

Text: Anna Thanner

Photo: Christian Gustavsson

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