“85% of brand purchases are made by women, yet only 3% of advertising agency creative directors are women.”
Last week, Tiffany Rolfe of CP+B wrote an interesting article for Creativity. Entitled: Female Creatives Need to Step Up and Promote. In response to the fact that she is always asked this question: Why aren’t there more female creative directors in advertising?
She doesn’t answer the question, necessarily. Instead, she poses a solution:
“Women are hardwired to kick ass and nurture at the same time. But unfortunately the advertising business isn’t known for nurturing. It’s competitive, it’s fast and it’s filled with insecurities. We don’t want to be replaced by the newer, younger, better model.
But maybe if we were better mentors for young people, they’d see a reason to keep us around when we were past our prime. If there is one type of person who could both juggle their own life/work balance, as well as nurture new creatives, it’s women. Think about it — if every female creative in a management role could mentor and promote just five other women, each of those can help five more, and onward, and before long we’ll be in the hundreds. Call it a pay-it-forward meritocracy.”
So, in a nutshell, she’s telling other women to be better mentors and to promote. She’s asking women to change the industry for other women.
Well, lali, being, as you know, “two adgirls trying to make it in a world of madmen,” has been sent this very article by many people. So we felt we needed to respond.
When we first walked down the walkway of Chiat Day, we had a decision to make. Do we try to blend in with the boys? Or do we embrace our girliness? As you can guess by the subhead of our blog, we went with the latter. And we’re glad we did. It’s not because we’re being feminists, or we’ve got a chip on our shoulders, or because we want to use it as a way to climb some sort of ladder. It’s because that’s who we are.
And maybe it’s opened some doors and closed some others. It gives us an immediate cache, a one liner kind of personality to hang onto and to define us. Minus youngbloods, we’re the only girl/girl team in the building. It makes us stand apart. When presenting, our “girliness” tends to create an immediate level of comfort and openness.
On the flip side, sometimes being female creatives, we’re not taken as seriously. And our ideas aren’t either. And we have to be conscious of what we wear, and how that changes perceptions. When we look around an office full of talented women (less in number than men, but still better than a lone Peggy Olson), is it a coincidence that a lot of them are attractive? That fact could be a weapon or a curse.
At RPA, I got asked to work on a new account – La-Z-Boy – because they were targeting “women” buyers. And the client had specifically asked for female creatives. At Chiat, we were asked to work on Diet Pepsi (much to our delight), targeting midwest moms. Again, the client and agency specifically felt female creatives would have a better insight on that work. Maybe we did. But it doesn’t mean we couldn’t have just as many insights on college football, which we’ve worked on. Or a car targeted at millenial males. Which we’ve also worked on, and which also got me, the copywriter, condemned for being sexist. We’re just being chameleons, talking to different people – just as sincerely, but from different view points.
Does being a female creative make us better at that then male creatives? Worse? Or the same? I don’t have an answer. Maybe a blog reader will.
I can say that while we may have worked with an at-the-time female ACD, (xo Xanthe!) with a bunch of female teams, at the end of the day, men were responsible for the final creative work inside the agency and men were responsible for approving the work that got produced. Which leads to the next topic…
As with anything, it’s probably a combination. And seeing as we aren’t creative directors and haven’t really been in the industry that long, we don’t hold the definitive answer on that subject. But I can sure write at length about it.
Babies. Probably the easiest thing at which to point our fingers, and rightfully so. We work long hours. We work hard hours. We never know when we’ll be here til 6p or 6a. And when you’ve got kids at home, it’s just a societal fact that women are more often the ones at home with them. Some by choice. Some by society’s programming. We can’t all be Margaret Keene, popping out a baby and then marching off to shoot a commercial.
WPP creative consultant Neil French said: “They [women] don’t work hard enough. It’s not a joke job. The future of the entire agency is in your hands as creative director. You can’t be a great creative director and have a baby and keep spending time off every time your kids are ill … Everyone who doesn’t commit themselves fully to the job is crap at it.”
He then was forced to resign, but he still said it.
Was he right? Even if he could have phrased it better (the feminist in me prickles in indignation)? Or does it lead to another reason why there are far fewer female creative directors than males: Advertising is, still, a boys club. With more men at the top, it’s more up to men to promote and hire. And this industry isn’t gentle, it’s more cutthroat. Age-old prejudices about the simple fact that I may end up pregnant and on maternity leave and distracted whether I am now or not probably still exist. As well as the standard cliches about women as leaders. Not to be crass, but we’re either gentle and therefore weak or bitchy and therefore bitchy. Or our skirts are too short. I’m not saying I agree with these viewpoints, but maybe they still linger in the back of people’s minds, never voiced but ever present.
Or maybe it’s just that when there’s a bunch of boys around making jokes and coming up with ideas, they just GET other boys’ ideas better than they get girls’ ideas. Comfort and familiarity. Get-along-together-ability trumps talent every time.
So, do we as women not want the role of creative director? Or do the men not want us to have it? Or both. Inherently, in an industry that would create the environment where those questions would have to be asked, there’s a lot of work to be done to both answer it and change it.
At our old agencies, we’d never worked with a female creative director. Why? Because there weren’t any. There were women who headed up departments, just not the creative department. So when we walked into Chiat Day, with giggles and lalipops and matching pink lamps, we were glad to find a whole host of female creatives, and a select few female creative directors.
So first, let’s celebrate our fellow adgirls. The CDs we’ve worked under. Margaret, for her undying dedication not just to her job (which is undeniable) but to loving everyone who works beside her as well (which is also undeniable). Xanthe, for her persevering quest to be the best creative director she can be. The partners we’ve had. Liz, for always being on top of it. Chelsea, for having an artist’s soul. Ariel, for being more than a partner, for being a best friend. To the beautiful and talented ladies of Chiat Day and Night, Shawna, Kristina, Suzanne, Mindy, Michelle, Helena, Kat, Denise, and more, who make great work but more importantly make this a great place to work.
And second, let’s not let our gender get in the way of ourselves. Stand up for ourselves if something’s unfair, but more importantly, just be ourselves and it’ll probably be more fair. Good creatives are good creatives regardless of whether they pee standing up or sitting down. And great advertising that comes from good insights is just that, great advertising. Whether it’s for tampons or beer. And remember, adgirls, we can make great ads for both.
The Tiffanys and Margarets and Xanthes have made things better for us. We can make things better for the girls behind us.
And while the fact that 97% of creative talent probably is NOT male (sorry guys), we can change it and change it we will.
In the meantime, we’re just gonna try and produce some work and have some fun. And listen to some Regina Spektor too.
PS For information, inspiration, questions and some answers, visit adwomen.org
Their quote: “If the great advance of the 20th century was the inclusion of women as equals in society, then an even greater advance in the 21st century will be the incorporation of women’s thinking.” Amen, sister.