The Winner Is: Award Gender Gaps and Why Entering Contests Is Still Worth It

Amy Guth, executive director of the Midwest Independent Film Festival, at the annual Best of The Midwest Awards Gala. (Photo by Brissa Del Mar @ Breeze Art Creatives)

Amy Guth, executive director of the Midwest Independent Film Festival, at the annual Best of The Midwest Awards Gala. (Photo by Brissa Del Mar @ Breeze Art Creatives)

Most of us have been watching the red carpet and acceptance speeches at the Golden Globes, SAG awards and are awaiting the Oscars.

As we are deep into awards season for entertainment, it has us wondering if all those industry competitions in just about every field imaginable are really worth the effort, money and time to be considered.

It also causes speculation if there is indeed an awards gender gap, as this year’s nominations for Oscars are being called #OscarsSoMale as nominations for women are absent for best director, cinematography, editing, music, adapted screenplay and original screenplay.

This year’s #OscarNoms are being called #OscarsSoMale as nominations for women are absent for best director, cinematography, editing, music, adapted screenplay and original screenplay.

Amy Guth, executive director of the Midwest Independent Film Festival, that recently held its annual Best of The Midwest Awards Gala, says, “It’s important to do our best work and commit to being excellent simply for the sake of doing so, but it’s also really important to be straightforward about the work we’re proud of. We’re often socialized, especially as women, to believe that excessive modesty, often to the point of self-abnegation, is virtuous and ideal, but we really must move away from the idea that stating a fact of our own accomplishment is selfish or boastful.”

Guth adds, “In the film industry, in particular, filmmakers should ideally do the work that most speaks to them creatively, and not do work simply with the end goal of trying to gather nominations and award recognition, yet, professional awards– in the arts just as in any industry– are often like keys to open doors; doors to more funding for the next project, a bigger platform on which to further a mission, and the ability to have access to gatekeepers in a more impactful way.”

Unfortunately, there is a #gendergap in recognition for awards in many fields from #science to the #arts. #OscarsSoMale

The unfortunate news is there is a gender gap in recognition for awards in many fields from science to the arts.

Read more in Take The Lead on awards

“Although there are more science prizes now than ever, they aren’t distributed fairly. A new study in Nature shows that women win fewer scientific prizes than their male peers, and the prizes they do win are less prestigious and come with lower monetary value,” according to The Conversation.

According to The Conversation, “’Women are getting the bottom-of-the-barrel prizes,” said Brian Uzzi, a network scientist at Northwestern University in Chicago, who led the study. That’s important because the general public doesn’t pay attention to metrics such as publication rate, citations or grant dollars: it pays attention to the prizewinners. Uzzi and his team examined data on the winners of prizes in biomedicine from 1968 to 2017. Searching the web, they identified 525 prizes won by 2,738 men and 437 women.”

In literature, the major prizes also tilt male.

According to a recent study, among the “National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle award—between 1990 and 2016, men won 60 percent of the three awards,” reports Omnia.

Researcher Savannah Lambert’s “findings showed that not only do women win these awards less frequently, but that books by women and men are less likely to win if they focus on women or girls as the main characters.”

Still, if you decide to go for it, winning an award can boost confidence, build recognition in an organization and a field and smooth the path for next steps. You can;t win an award if you don’t enter the contest. Perhaps equity in submissions will eventually lead to equity in winners.

“When your name is called out at the ceremony, it is a cause for celebration, and recognition for the hours and hard work you have, often in your own time, to improving care for your patients. This recognition can have a lasting impact on the winner’s nursing practice. It can give them the confidence to take their projects further and their skills into new areas,” writes Elaine Cole in Nursing Standard.

If recognition in your field for your accomplishments through industry contests and competitions makes a difference to your career, you need to decide what kinds of prizes matter most. @amyguth @midwestfilm #awardseason

If recognition in your field for your accomplishments through industry contests and competitions makes a difference to your career,  you need to decide what kinds of prizes matter most.

Innovation contests in tech can lead to funding for startups. Annual awards for prestigious prizes in marketing, business and more can lead to increased value as a team member. You may even get a job offer elsewhere.

Internal competitions for sales, other measurable outcomes, and even attitude for Employee Of The Month can matter when it is time for promotion. They are also handy to add to your resume as it demonstrates you were celebrated by your employer.

Here are some guidelines and questions to ask yourself  to help you decide if entering a competition is worth it for you. And also consider that it may be worth it to enter to shift the metrics of who is applying for these awards.

Research if these awards are gendered. Investigate on the award website if indeed prizes always go to male winners, or majority male winners. Inquire if the judging is gender blind, or if the judges are an all-male group. Make a suggestion on the “contact us” link or to the head of the organization that the judges panel be more diverse and that the applicant pool for prizes be diverse and inclusive. It may not make a difference in this round, but you can definitely bring it to the attention of the contest administration for the future. Follow the group on social media to see what kind of responses and interaction they have with the public.

Does the award have cache? Of course a new award can be prestigious, but awards with a legacy and that have been given to leaders in your field would be good to try for. Especially if the recipient list is diverse and gender-balanced. A good indication of whether this award is worth applying for is if it has received media coverage in the past—or in its announcement or launch. If others are paying attention, perhaps you should as well.

Do you have time? Some contests require a great deal of documentation, essays written, recommendations and more evidence to gather for your entry. If you cannot devote the necessary time to make an excellent case for yourself or for your team, then don’t bother. You do not want the judges or committee in charge of the awards to see you as slapping together your contribution. When it comes time for you to really push for winning this award later on, they may just remember how you were sloppy in your quest at first.

Weigh internal vs. external. “It goes without saying that some of the very best awards to put on a resume are those that reward excellent performance. Whether it is for sales or for the company safety record, these types of awards show that you are an asset to any organization you work for, and that you take your responsibilities very seriously,” writes Margaret Buj in Live Career. But you may also want to try for the national organization representing your field to gain affirmation beyond your own company. It can also get you noticed in ways you were not earlier.

Is the cost worth it? Most contests have an entry fee. If it is steep, your company or organization may pay for it. If they do not have a policy where that is possible, you are on your own. Decide if this is worth it for you. Look at the guidelines and decide if you are really in the running for a prize or award, or if you are just going through the motions. If it is costly, enter just one category, then learn from the experience. In subsequent years, you may want to enter a different category, or edit your submission. It is also worth asking the contest administrators if there is a policy on scholarship or waiving the fee for certain circumstances.

Can you attend the awards event? You may want to consider if it is possible for you to travel to the awards event as that may be the best reason for entering. Likely other industry leaders will be on hand at the ceremony itself, and you will be acknowledged and recognized, opening the door possibly for you to make network connections or collaborations. If it is impossible for you to attend, is it worth the effort for you to enter the contest, as you will miss out on those chances? You decide.

Guth, who says winning an award can start “the ripple effect of recognition,” advocates for entering contests in your field.

“There’s value in putting work forth for recognition. It’s not about internal validation, though that can be important in early career stages especially, but rather, it’s about being upfront about our accomplishment, and things we’ve often worked hard to create,” Guth says.

“Similarly, in cases when awards committees are homogenous or long-standing groups, it’s also important to be vocal about good work and straightforwardly nominate ourselves and others for a fitting award, especially when our work is often overlooked in favor of our white, male counterparts due to unconscious bias,” Guth says.

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About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon