3% of creative directors are women. We need to change that.

Wednesday December 4, 2013

written by Honest Hardworking True

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Quick: Name every female CD in Milwaukee that you know.

Stumped? I was, when asked this question recently. I could think of one, perhaps two, in smaller shops, and not a single one in a “big” agency. Perhaps I just don’t know them, having lived in small agency land for a while now, though I was certainly not alone in my stymied state among other friends asked this question.

If you’re worried that this is going to be a “feminist rant” on gender inequalities in advertising, tech, business and the world…it’s not (mainly because I don’t want Nick to kick me off the blog). I believe we should be thinking about this for business reasons, not only so-called “feminist” ones – though yes, those matter too.


“Women are outliers in creative.”

Did you know that, on a national basis, 3% of advertising creative directors are women? THREE out of every ONE HUNDRED.  That is, to use a technical marketing term, seriously messed up.

Enter The 3% Conference, launched in 2012 by Kat Gordon and held in San Francisco in October. An event about “building the business case” for more female CDs, it is also a groundswell that is gaining momentum online and off. It will include a “road show” that will travel to at least five other cities; I hope Milwaukee is among them.

Dr. Jean Grow, Associate Professor of Strategic Communication at Milwaukee’s Marquette University, has been exploring this topic for years. She has interviewed top female creatives in the U.S., Canada, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Peru, and provides global data as another perspective:

“I just finished a big study using Red Books. I looked across 50 countries and nearly 2,000 agencies. The data are definitive. Women are outliers in creative. They make up only 20.3% of all creatives across the world and 14.6% of all CDs globally. We know that the lack of proportional representation (met at 35%) and tokenism (where one is trapped until reaching 15%) can create great pitfalls. I would venture to say that female creatives are not where they should be, especially when we know that women influence upwards of 80% of all consumption choices.”


Why is it this way?

Dr. Grow says, “Men tend to hire men. As the majority of CDs are men, it perpetuates a boys’ club in creative. Mind you, I, and many of the women I interviewed, don’t think men’s biased hiring practices are necessarily conscious.”

And Kat Gordon, the conference founder, expands on that. “Most of these issues start with a two-word phrase: lack of. Lack of support for motherhood, lack of mentorship, lack of awareness that femaleness is an asset to connecting to the consumer marketplace today, lack of celebration of female work due to gender bias of award juries.”


How does this affect our creative work?

Cindy Gallop, founder of the U.S. branch of BBH, spoke on the topic at this year’s 3% Conference. She points out that at the most recent One Show, the reel of award-winning TV clips was “95% men in heroic, exciting, dynamic, adventurous, aspirational, glamorous, energetic scenarios and 5% women as the mother, the girlfriend, the sidekick.”

Having never really thought about that before, I’d be curious to watch the Milwaukee 99 reel through that lens. Dr. Grow did just that, at this year’s show, and says: “Gallop’s comments are reflected in the Milwaukee 99 reel and opening slideshow. Men lead with exciting roles and women follow in supporting roles. This is not unlike the data I found in the Red Books. Here’s the real problem…you rarely see female points of view reflected in the work. And with women influencing upwards of 80% of all consumption decisions, not seeing female sensibilities in advertising is, frankly, bad business.”


Why should we care?

To echo Gallop and Grow and Gordon: it’s bad business. It’s also not a reflection of reality. Women, too, are heroic, exciting, dynamic, adventurous, aspirational, glamorous and energetic, and we want – no, expect – to be represented as such, if you want us to connect with your brand.

As Gallop explains, “If advertising doesn’t get itself to gender equality, we don’t have a future. We are not a subset. We are the norm. The world of advertising will make a (redacted) load more money if they really understand that we are the norm. Women buy. We are the majority of purchasers in every single product sector, including sectors that were historically thought to be male. When 97% of all creative directors here in the U.S. are men, we as women are being played back to ourselves through the male gaze. And that is not good for society. It’s not good for social cultural influences. It’s not good for any of you. It’s not good for your daughters. And it’s not good for your sons.”


A call for change

This is not a new issue…I can recall having the same conversation at Carmichael Lynch (Minneapolis) in the early 90s, when a visiting client looked at a group photo of the creative department and, painfully, noted the extremely scant representation of women. That was almost 20 years ago.

Another 20 years from now, will it have changed? That’s up to all of us.

It’s going to take more than talk, more than awareness. Though that will be a great start. To begin the conversation, says Gordon, “The 3% Conference brings all these issues to light and combats them with an equally powerful two-word phrase: “how to.” We aim to teach men and women in agencies how to address these issues in new ways. Plus, we offer something that has been sorely lacking for female creatives: a sense of community.”

Locally, Andrea Nordgren, a creative/strategist and documentary film producer, is moving this issue higher on the radar, after filming the conference in San Francisco. “What struck me is how strongly both male and female chief creative officers said this is an issue – no, a tsunami – that is coming. Businesses that do not plan for diversity in creative leadership will not own the future of business.” She’s become a local champion for the 3% movement and is working to bring the conference to Milwaukee.

Let’s do this, Milwaukee. What say you?


 Sue Spaight has been in account service and strategy roles in agencies of all sizes around the U.S. and is currently Director of Strategy at Jigsaw, LLC. She’s been a female for 45 years now, almost 25 of them in advertising, and still believes that men are good.

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