By Mission

On women’s equality day, we look back at our interview with the entrepreneur determined to pave the way for more women directors.

For Mission’s inaugural issue, we spoke to Alma Har’el, founder of Free the Bid, a women-led company challenging the lack of gender equality in advertising.

Mission: Why did you start Free the Bid?

Alma Har’el: I was tired of being on sets where I was the only woman directing a room full of men. Once I became aware of the other talented female directors who weren’t even getting to pitch on commercials, it started to become clear to me that a big part of the way I’ve been fortunate to make my films and be an independent filmmaker was thanks to directing commercials. It helped me sustain myself, and it was obvious that other women don’t get that chance. It’s estimated that women make 80 percent of consumer decisions, but in directing, the advertising world is not using the female perspective.

Mission: What finally made you do it?

AH: Year after year, there’s endless talk about addressing inequality for female directors. I wanted to make a simple, practical change to allow women a greater range of opportunity. I wanted to break the cycle that shuts women out of the industry for not having strong enough reels, which is a product of discriminatory hiring over decades. PJ Pereira, the cofounder of Pereira & O’Dell, reached out to us, and after brainstorming, we figured the best way to make a difference would be to make sure a woman was included on every triple bid, meaning the advertising agencies must present a choice of three directors for an ad job. I started reaching out to agencies, and the response was overwhelming. We’ve received pledges from some of the biggest agencies in the world, along with brands like HP and Visa.

Mission: Where do you get your inspiration and drive?

AH: I get it from seeing the world in a certain way and wanting to share it with other people. It’s also a survival mechanism: I need to create and have a dialogue around creativity to stay alive and happy.

Mission: How do you see Free the Bid expanding?

AH: Our goal is to become the number-one resource for female directors. Currently our website features nearly 400 directors’ reels, making it impossible for anyone to use the excuse that they “couldn’t find a woman” to hire. We’re working on a massive site overhaul to give more accurate searches and let us aggregate news content, and to create our own editorial content about women directors and the great work they do.

I’d love to measure our expansion by its effect on the ad industry. In five years, I hope that the statistics on directors getting hired have approached gender parity, if not attained it. I would love to see a diverse pool of female directors getting consistently hired to direct all kinds of ads—car commercials, sports spots, anything—and to make it possible for more women to sustain their directing careers.

I want them to be independent, make money, and help change how women are represented in media.

Mission: How do you select directors you want to support on Free the Bid?

AH: Initially, we wanted to make sure every female director at the major production companies had a reel on our site, but we’re also committed to showcasing the work of independent directors (experienced women who prefer to remain unsigned) and new directors (women who are starting to make their way into directing ads).

Just opening the door for women isn’t enough, though. The statistics only get worse when you look at factors like race. We want to make an extra effort to create opportunities that spotlight a full spectrum of diversity.

Mission: What do you look for in a female director that would make them a good fit with Free the Bid?

AH: The directors on our site are all very different, but ideally those we’d like to feature all have the experience or the potential to create great campaigns. They say men are judged based on potential and women are judged based on experience….We want to change that and give a place for both.

Mission: Do you find many now approach you to be part of this?

AH: Most directors have reached out to us—they’re excited someone is taking on the industry’s inequality head-on and want to be part of the movement. A few women say they’d rather be hired for their talent and not as a token woman. I respect that, but I identify as a woman director as a political act, and I like coming in and changing people’s minds about their perceptions of what women can and can’t do. I’ll happily be the token woman for as long as it takes for people to realize we can kill it behind the camera.

Photo credit: Piper Ferguson