Role Modeling The Way To 'Lean In'

"The issue is role models. You can't be what you can't see.”

That's a quotation from Cindy Gallop, an advertising entrepreneur who has lately made the issue of the ever-widening, or at least really-slow-to-close gender gap in the ad business her business. 

She even called out the dearth of female jurors at awards shows while standing on stage, at the podium of just such a black-tie event last May.

I wrote about the issue before the Cannes Lions Festival in June. That post led my overlords at  to create an all-female jury to judge and present its OMMA awards. 



They take place next  Monday, during Advertising Week. (Shameless plug Number 2: you can still buy tickets.) 

While handing out the awards, each juror will be paired with a student or intern coming up in the business. 

Interestingly, once the all-female jury was announced, we started getting push-back from some males (and females, too.) Isn’t the premise of an all-female jury just as sexist as an all-male jury?” some asked. Yes. Indeed, it is.

But at an impromptu lunch that some of the jurors attended last week, one of the responses was, “When was the last time you heard a man talking about an all-male panel?” 

You don’t, because the lion’s share of advertising juries and panels are all-male, and we’ve become so conditioned to expect these baked-in biases that we no longer even notice them.  

You’d think that 30 years or so after women started entering the professional world in droves, things would be improving, or at least slouching toward 50/50. Perhaps they are in some industries. Not in advertising.

Certainly, a real challenge for women in the industry lately is the move toward analytics and SEO. Yes, the whole “girls-don’t-do-math” equation is a big cliché, and look at Marissa Meyer. 

But the truth is there are many fewer female engineers and coders, and the culture of start-ups and “brogramming” skews even more hostile and adolescent toward grown-up women than most businesses. 

The latest bit of outrageous sexism took place last week in San Francisco at a  TechCrunch hackathon. The first pair of coders on stage—two 20-something Australian dudes--presented "Titstare," an app that lets you "take photos of yourself staring at tits." This was a conference that attendees paid to go to. Another presentation involved a male masturbation joke. The most poignant part was that there was a nine-year old girl, Alexandra Jordan, in the audience the whole time, waiting patiently to show her web site, “Super Kid Fun Time,” where kids can log on and find their friends from school, and request play dates. 

Perhaps Jordan’s story serves as the ultimate metaphor for what girls face while coming up through the tech pipeline. Titstare might just be a crude and stupid joke, but it is indicative of some of the entrenched and aggressive sexism that makes it so much harder for women to be productive and successful tech entrepreneurs, (Sheryl Sandberg aside.)

Okay, so tech start-ups tend toward their own wolf-pack cultural extremes. And how many Elon Musks and Larry Ellisons are there, anyway?  And, yes, books like The End of Men have been written, and it’s also been shown that the recession has been harder on men looking for employment than women. And men have stepped up with the housework and childcare—hugely, by comparison with their own fathers.

Still, any field that requires lots of travel and lots of office face-time presents a huge problem for mothers and fathers with young children. It seems that from the late ’90s onward, the one who made the decision to either stay home or change careers to do something more family-friendly, (especially after the second kid) more often was the wife. 

Of course, it seems stupid to generalize and fall back into trivializing clichés, but just last week, the Harvard Business Review (whose top editor is a woman) published a cover showing a profile of a woman’s face covered with the lines: “Emotional. Bossy. Too Nice. The biases that still hold female leaders back – and how to overcome them.” 

Addressing the cultural issues that prevent more women from going higher inside organizations, and encourage too many to leave too early, is essential, of course.  You’d think that the need to tell young women, to Lean In (or sit at the table, or  raise their hands) would be too obvious to state by now. But good girl, pleaser-culture still exists, side by side with twerking and aggressive sexuality, and it’s confusing for everybody.  

Another difference: Many of the women who came up in the ranks in the ’80s had male mentors. These days, men are worried about coming off as patronizing or sexually harass-y if they take that role. 

One of the things that came out of the judges’ luncheon was the need for older women to mentor younger ones. Two of the judges mentioned that you get to that point where you’ve just kept your head down and worked hard. And then you look up, and realize that younger women are watching your every move, and that they need tactical and moral support. 

As Gallup said, “You can’t be what you don’t see.”

9 comments about "Role Modeling The Way To 'Lean In'".
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  1. George Parker from Parker Consultants, September 19, 2013 at 9:35 a.m.

    Never forget that Yahoo's Chief Logo Designer, Marissa Mayer, still finds time for the kids, fortunately, they are next door to her office in the 20,000 sq ft nursery. If you need more judges for your panel, I can arrange for Kate to be there, but only if you hold it on Friday and allow smoking, drinking and swearing. Good job you won't be holding it on Wednesday, 'cos you know who might show up then. Always glad to be of assistance.
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 19, 2013 at 10:54 a.m.

    Barbara, you can knock the socks off of everybody. The View still needs you.

  3. Tony Nino from PADV Pasadena Advertising, September 19, 2013 at 7:46 p.m.

    First, Amen.
    Second, Thank you!
    Our agency, PADV in Pasadena, recently appeared on AMC’s “The Pitch.” One of the reasons Suzanne Marks, our CEO, chose to allow our agency to be featured was to show the impact of female creatives and executives in capturing the imagination and pocketbooks of men and women. Depending on the research, women control between 60% and 70% of all spending decisions in this country, but they account for only 3% of agency creative directors. The result is that female end customers, shoppers and influencers are overlooked or outright insulted by advertisers, especially traditional advertisers.
    Sadly the producers of The Pitch chose to ignore that story. In fact, they portrayed the opposite position. Our art director Sarah Baker programmed a website for people who cannot read: aphasiacs, robbed of their ability to speak, read and write. However she was portrayed as incapable of operating even a simple presentation. A minor glitch that lasted less than a minute was stretched to over 5 minutes of scary music and scowling (counting commercials) by the producers. Perhaps more telling however was the fact that the client, ostensibly looking for an agency to promote women’s fashions, was represented by three men.
    Certainly that could be considered demeaning and insulting, but so what? There is a massive economic power block out there being overlooked, and that has to pose an extraordinary opportunity for women in advertising. Who understands women better than women? Clients and advertisers who get it, who see the potential to capture this enormous underserved audience can reap enormous benefits. Dove and Lululemon understand, and they’re profiting from it. Even card-carrying male chauvinists will have to come around when they see there’s money being made. We’re not at the tipping point yet, but it’s coming.
    Whoever wants to follow the money, will find women ahead of them.

  4. George Parker from Parker Consultants, September 19, 2013 at 8:39 p.m.

    @Tony... I say this with no malice and with a great deal of sympathy... After seeing what they did to Tracy Wong in the first episode... Any agency that agrees to go on "The Pitch" should not be surprised, or upset, that they will be made to look like charlatans and churls. It's what most networks think the public wants. Just look at most of their programming.
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  5. Barbara Lippert from, September 19, 2013 at 10:07 p.m.

    @Tony-- thank you! Yes, I will be attending the 3% Conference in San Francisco-- named for the aforementioned percentage of female creative directors.
    As you say, women do all the buying , but ads are made for 18 year old guys.
    Sorry about your experience on THe Pitch. That's really outrageous!

  6. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, September 20, 2013 at 8:35 a.m.

    Oddly an old partner who has started yet another agency (his third) was advised by his law firm (a very good one) not to go on the Pitch. Too bad because he would have been very amusing and probably would have shot and edited the group shooting him. As for the 3% conference, last time a % conference was in San Francisco it was for the Hell's Angels who wore 1% on their sleeves to indicate they were part of the 1% who gave motorcyclists a bad name. No question in any field, people who think of themselves as outsiders (whether because of their ethnic group, religion, even age) are helped by seeing that what they are trying for is possible. I do, however, want to make the point that the ad biz (for whatever its faults) was more likely to find women at high levels doing great work earlier than any other enterprise save nursing and education. One married couple was even running the biggest agency in the world more than 60 years ago; the copy chief of DDB, the breakthrough agency of the 1950s was a woman; the leader of the first agency to go public and then buy itself back was a woman; the writer of the ad headline of the 20th century (Lemon) was a woman. These all got into the business before Friedan, before Ms. Magazine. Maybe they were all influenced by the three great terrors of libertarianism: Rand, Lane, and Paterson or perhaps my personal heroine Vivien Kellams (apologies of I spelt Ms. Kellams name wrong).

  7. George Parker from Parker Consultants, September 20, 2013 at 9:36 a.m.

    The smartest person I ever worked with was Mary Wells. And as for making men jump through hoops, Charlotte Beers was unmatched. Then of course, the world's greatest commentator of all things advertising, and tuba virtuoso, shall go unnamed, because of her innate modesty.

  8. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, September 20, 2013 at 3:52 p.m.

    woke dasu, stop sending messages here....send instead to adolph.toigo@lennen&

  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 20, 2013 at 8:08 p.m.

    Lululemon is very broken and very over priced.

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